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Next U.C. Chancellor Visits Berkeley Campus

By Steven Finacom
Wednesday November 28, 2012 - 08:38:00 AM

UC Berkeley’s next Chancellor made a brief public appearance on the campus on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 27, 2012, offering informal greetings to some hundreds of campus staff, students, faculty and alumni who had gathered on the steps of Doe Library in response to an open invitation from current Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. 

Earlier in the day the UC Board of Regents, meeting in Oakland, confirmed the appointment of Nicholas Dirks, a Columbia University faculty member and administrator. After a private reception in the Morrison Library, Dirks came outside, to applause, to greet the crowd that had gathered under approaching storm clouds, against the early fall green backdrop of the Berkeley hills and the monumental granite façade of Doe. “I want to thank the weather for postponing the deluge until later”, Dirks joked. 

Dirks was introduced by departing Chancellor Robert Birgeneau who will retire in June 2013, after a transition period to the new administration. Birgeneau said that the day he had announced his retirement as Chancellor, “one of my close friends sent me an e-mail that said, ‘Free at Last! Free at Last!’.” But “this is not about me”, he added. “I’m going to hand it over to Professor Dirks and Janaki, who are going to be your leaders for the indefinite future.” 

“It’s an enormous thrill to be here”, Dirks told the crowd. “An absolute thrill and a great honor.” He talked briefly about time he spent in Southern California at CalTech, and added that even though he loves Columbia and living in New York, “I thought this is the one place I could come to and have absolutely no regrets at all.” 

“I’m deeply committed to working with the faculty, staff and, of course, the students”, he said. He also made a rhetorical nod to Birgeneau’s theme of “excellence and diversity.” Dirks, a professor of anthropology with a specialization in South Asia, also introduced his wife, Janaki Bakhle, who is currently an assistant professor in the department of history at Columbia. She “earns far better rankings and ratings than anything I’ve ever taught”, he said. A faculty appointment for her at Berkeley is under consideration, he added. 

(If Bakhle does join the faculty, she would be the first spouse of a Berkeley Chancellor to also hold a ladder rank faculty position. Dirks, born in 1950, will be the 10th Chancellor of the Berkeley campus. Before 1958, when Clark Kerr was appointed the first Chancellor, the campus was administered directly by the UC President, who traditionally lived in Berkeley. Dirks and his family, which includes a 13-year old son, would be expected to live in University House on campus, which doubles as the Chancellor’s residence and an event center.) 

Dirks has taught at CalTech, Michigan, and Columbia. He said that he “learned at Michigan how a great university is even greater when it’s a great public university,” earning a round of applause from the Berkeley audience. “Thanks so much for being here, and Go Bears!” Dirks concluded. 

When the crowd was invited to come up the Library steps and gather close to the podium, protestors had strategically stationed themselves at either side of the Doe Library entrance, displaying “Occupy Cal” signs and a large banner reading “Make UC Berkeley A Sanctuary Campus”. They remained silent during the event. A few other signs were displayed in the crowd including “Welcome From UC Berkeley Physics Department” written on a manila folder, and a placard opposing new timekeeping regulations—“Respect, NOT Time Clocks for UC Staff”—held up by a library staffer. Uniformed UC police officers were scattered here and there around the perimeter of the crowd. 

A contingent of the Cal Band briefly performed, then the gathering ended. There was a moment of uncertainty in the crowd, unsure if the presentations were over. Birgeneau returned to the podium to say “Thank you everyone, that’s it!” 

The event broke up into small, conversational, groups and part of the crowd swarmed a table set up on the terrace with refreshments. Cookies disappeared in an instant, and people picked through the cheese and crackers. 

A few minutes later after the dignitaries had filtered back into Doe Library, one of the “Occupy” protestors climbed up on a wall and exhorted the crowd to go to Eshleman Hall, where a demonstration / sit-in apparently began as evening descended. 

There’s University coverage of the Dirks confirmation and event here:

Barricaded Protesters Emerge from Vacant UC Berkeley Building

By Bay City News
Wednesday November 28, 2012 - 08:23:00 AM

Several students who barricaded themselves inside of a vacant University of California at Berkeley building last night to demand support for minority programs on campus have ended their occupation, according to protesters. 

Banners were hung from the building at the sixth floor of Eshleman Hall, where the protesters were barricaded for roughly six hours yesterday while police stood outside of the building. 

Protesters also gathered in the plaza outside of the occupied building, lighting candles and cheering on the demonstration inside. 

At one point the barricaded protesters threw a message from the window to the crowd waiting below. "This is what anti-racist solidarity looks like," the letter said, and was signed, "Students for Equity and Efficacy." 

They emerged peacefully last night shortly after 9:30 p.m. and none were arrested. 

A statement of demands distributed by protesters over the Internet and in printed fliers said that the six protesters who locked themselves in Eshleman Hall are seeking increased support from the administration for minority recruitment and the Multicultural Student Development offices. 

Protesters in Sproul Plaza also said they were concerned that minority representation on campus was diminishing following the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, which ended affirmative action programs at California public universities. 

Protesters said that the protest began with a rally outside UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's home yesterday afternoon, and six protesters then broke off and barricaded themselves in Eshleman Hall. 

Protesters said that Eshleman Hall used to be the home of the university's multicultural center. 

The building is slated for demolition this fall to make way for planned improvements for the Sproul Plaza area of the campus, according to university officials. 


New: A Dangerous Visit to Berkeley (News Analysis)

By Carol Denney
Monday November 26, 2012 - 09:47:00 PM

Police misconduct is being ignored as a community-wide problem in Berkeley.

The echoing canyons of empty storefronts blamed on the presence of homeless people and panhandlers probably have more to do with real estate brokers’ refusal to lower rental rates than panhandling, but Berkeley streets have another issue which is a serious, even dangerous problem for poor people and shoppers alike– police misconduct.

Try to imagine coming across the bay to visit friends with your family and being suddenly tackled, torn from your family’s side, and forced to spend the night in a psychiatric facility without charge or explanation. Would you ever come back to visit?

Hila Sulme and her son, both of San Francisco, visited friends one Sunday in Berkeley then stopped by the downtown library before walking back to their car on Center Street. It was November 18, 2012, around 6:00 pm.

They were on Center near the game store when, Ms. Sulme told the Planet, Berkeley bike officer Eric Keen zoomed around the corner and grabbed her son, taking him to the ground and handcuffing him. Another Berkeley police officer, a woman named Cole, was present as well, according to Ms. Sulme. A man who claimed to have reported a crime stood nearby watching as Ms. Sulme’s son was handcuffed on the public sidewalk. 

Neither Ms. Sulme nor her son had any idea what was going on. They had witnessed no crime or incident during their day, and had never had any encounter with either police officer before. 

Ms. Sulme said she asked the young man who claimed to have reported them to the police to step back and give them some privacy, and Officer Keen objected, stating “he has the right to stand here.” 

Ms. Sulme told him that she was the mother of the young man being arrested. Officer Keen asked how old her son was, and when she told him that he was eighteen, responded that she then had no rights, and needed to get a power of attorney. Ms. Sulme described trying her best to inform the police officers that her son had unique medical issues and that they needed to listen to her regarding his condition, but she was dismissed by both officers, who suggested that an ambulance would be called and the emergency medical technicians would evaluate her son. 

Officer Cole made a strange comment, she said, accusing her of being sarcastic as she tried to explain the complex medical circumstances facing her son, circumstances which she, as his mother, as a nurse, and as someone with training in special education was in a position to clarify. She denied that she was being sarcastic, and when the officers continued to resist allowing her to tell them anything about her son’s medical issues, commented that she felt they were both being unprofessional and unethical. Neither officer had any interest in what she had to say and claimed they had no obligation to listen to her. 

According to Ms. Sulme, her son was now seated on the sidewalk against the game store wall, and the officers forced a Starbucks cup into his handcuffed hands behind his back, which she could only presume was an effort to take his fingerprints. It had become clear at this point that the officers were responding to a report on the vandalism of a car somewhere near the library on Allston Way and assumed that her son, who had never left her side, was responsible. 

Ms. Sulme’s son had no cuts or glass anywhere on his body which might link him to any car vandalism when the ambulance took him away, but after spending the night sleeping on the floor of John George psychiatric facility in Oakland he had a bruise on his arm from being hit by one of the patients. Ms. Sulme said she got through to a physician at the facility who was baffled that her son had been sent there in the first place, commenting that not only did the psychiatric placement make no sense, commenting also that the setting was dangerous for her son because of his medical issues--which is exactly what Ms. Sulme had been trying to tell Officer Eric Keen and Officer Heather Cole, the bike officers so eager to have her son swept off the street into an ambulance and out of sight.  

Neither she nor her son have any idea whether or not he will be charged with a crime. All she was given as her son was taken away was a case number. 

Both Ms. Sulme and her son remain baffled by their mistreatment. They’ve received no citation or charges of any crime at the time of this writing, nor have they received any apology or explanation from the police officers or the department regarding the bizarre events of that day. 

The Berkeley Police Department’s public information officer, Jennifer Coats, claimed that Ms. Sulme’s son was never taken to the ground, and that an eyewitness had identified him as having broken a car window. Officer Coats also stated that a mobile crisis team had been called and had arranged for psychiatric observation. She had no comment on the officers’ having forced a Starbucks' cup into Ms. Sulme’s son’s handcuffed hands. 

Please consider, the next time you see someone surrounded by police on the streets on Berkeley, simply standing by as a witness. The ten minutes you spend observing might end up being of crucial assistance to an innocent person. It also might clarify at least one reason why many people avoid coming for a visit.

Updated: 2012 Election in Berkeley: Voters 90% for Obama, 91% for Prop 30—Props 34 and 37 and Measure B1 also favored by large margins (News Analysis)

By Rob Wrenn
Monday November 26, 2012 - 01:45:00 PM

90.3% of Berkeley voters voted to re-elect Barack Obama as president. That’s down from the 92.5% who supported him in 2008. John Kerry won 90.0% of the vote in Berkeley in 2004 presidential election. 

Mitt Romney only managed to get 4.6% of the Berkeley vote this year; Green Party candidate Jill Stein got 3.2%. 54,163 votes were cast for Obama in Berkeley; 2766 for Romney and 1917 for Stein. 


Prop or Measure 

Percent of vote 


Prop 30 taxes 

90.7% Yes 

Prop 31 Budget 

78.4% No 

Prop 32 unions 

85.6% No 

Prop 33 auto insurance 

83.4% No 

Prop 34 Death Penalty 

85.7% Yes 

Prop 35 

Human Trafficking 

67.0% Yes 

Prop 36 3 strikes 

92.4% Yes 

Prop 37 GMO labeling 

74.6% Yes 

Prop 38 Income tax hike 

69% No 

Prop 39 Multistate 

Businesses Tax 

85.1% Yes 

Prop 40 Redistricting 

87.2% yes 

Measure A1 parcel tax for Oakland Zoo 

65.5% Yes 

Measure B1 sales tax transportation 

80.8% Yes 



A total of 60,559 Berkeley voters voted this year; 59,974 of these voted for president. 

Final election results from other states and counties are not yet available, but based on available results, it looks like Detroit, Gary, Indiana, Washington, D.C., Inglewood in L.A. County are cities with populations of 100,000 or more that produced higher percentages for Obama than Berkeley. 

With provisional ballots not included, 96.8% of voters in Gary favored Obama. Provisional ballots have also not been counted in Washington, but so far Obama has 90.9%. 

Among cities with a majority of white residents, Berkeley tops the list once again for percentage of votes for a Democratic presidential candidate. 

Cities where over 80%, but less than 90%, of the vote went to Obama include: Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, New York City, and Cambridge, MA, 

Propositions 30 and 37 

Based on the total number of votes cast by Berkeley voters, Propositions 30 and 37 were the propositions that Berkeley voters cared most about. 58,277 votes were cast on Prop 30; 57,273 on Prop 37. 

Prop 30, which will increase state income tax rates for the wealthy and will increase the state sales tax by ¼%, garnered a slightly higher percentage than Obama: 90.7%. 

That’s probably the highest percentage of any city in the state. Statewide, the measure is currently at 54.9% with the results not yet finalized. 

Proposition 37, which would require labeling of genetically engineered food, failed statewide by about 52% to 48%, but it passed easily in Berkeley 74.6% of the vote; San Francisco voters voted 68% Yes. 

Other Props and Measures 

Prop 34, which would have abolished the death penalty in California, also lost statewide with the current, not yet finalized count at 52.2% to 47.8%. But it won about 86% of the vote in Berkeley. 

On other State propositions, Berkeley voted like the rest of the state, but by larger percentages, except on Proposition 35, the human trafficking measure, which is now at 81% statewide, but was supported by a smaller 67% in Berkeley. 

And Alameda County Measure B1, the sales tax measure to fund transit and other transportation improvements, won almost 81% in Berkeley, while narrowly falling short of the required two thirds countywide. Backers of the measure may decide to request a recount now that the county has certified the final results. 


Have Fun,Buy Local at the Same Time:
Find Toys, Plenty of Play in the East Bay©

By Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, Dr. Toy
Saturday November 24, 2012 - 09:01:00 AM

Balance your time and energy during the holiday season or anytime with plenty of playtime. Find a Frisbee and locate a place to toss it with some friends; or find a kite and go fly it. One of my favorite toys made in the Bay Area is a Tangle Toy that always makes anyone of any age smile as they endlessly twist and turn it. Go to www.tangletoys.com to learn more. 

You don’t have to wait for the “Kite Festival” on the Marina to launch your kite upwards, or wait for a Tangle Toy to twist, or until the gym opens to create playtime. Places for play are all around. 

Wondering where to find fun places for play? There are many varied outdoor recreational places in Berkeley such as the amazing Adventure Playground at the Marina, Tilden Park, and many others places for in and outdoor play. 

Indoors, for preschoolers, there are many places that are free, or charge nominal amounts for play, but are perfect especially for little ones who are discovering the joy of playing in small groups. Indoor places are perfect for inclement weather, for birthday parties, and when everyone needs a change of pace. 

Places that are indoors for preschoolers include the innovative Habitot, 2065 Kittredge St. (downstairs below Mel’s Restaurant, between Harold Way & Shattuck Ave.), Berkeley. Habitot offers popular water play plus many different varied play environments and it’s perfect for birthday parties. The Gift Shop offers a wide variety of preschool products. Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 

Another open-ended play space is Studio Grow, 1235 10th St. (between Harrison St. & Gilman St.), Berkeley. Plenty of space for play activities and birthday parties. 

We are fortunate to have places many communities do not have. Yes, it would be wonderful if there were even more places, but with “mini parks,” recreational places, the Y, and Community Centers we have a good variety of play spaces. 

What about toys and other playthings? Where in Berkeley do you find the best that children can enjoy, and have as play “tools” for a long time? 

Considering the diverse need for toys of all kinds, and for all ages, there are plenty of choices available in the large toy marketplace, but this holiday season consider buying and shopping locally. 

Many excellent toy companies are designing products not only in Berkeley, but throughout the Bay Area. The realistic high quality Folkmanis puppets were first sold on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley many years ago to benefit a local school. Now their son is grown and working in the company. Leap Frog, now a large company, started with one product not long ago and just next door in Emeryville. Peaceable Kingdom, located in Berkeley, offers diverse cooperative games and many other colorful products. There are other great products created locally. 


Dr. Toy’s Guide for Holiday Gifts Made by Bay Area Companies 


  1. Blue Orange Games



Your whole family will find Fastrack game (like air-hockey/archery) a lot of fun through the year. This disc-flinging exciting game is played on a wooden tray. The moves are easy. Using one hand, pull the elastic band to launch discs through the small opening. Each side starts with 5 wooden disks. Be the first to clear all 10 disks to opponent’s side. Plenty of action plus extra benefits of strengthening finger dexterity, and eye-hand coordination. The packaging is recycled and recyclable cardboard. Find Blue Orange Games at Games of Berkeley and Rockridge Kids. For more information visit www.blueorangegames.com 


  1. Diggin Active
Wobble Deck Extreme 



This unique Wobble Deck Extreme is an electronic balance board that features four fun games that challenge a child’s mind, body and responses. Games include: Copy Wobble, Memory Wobble, Wobbly Statues, and Musical Wobble. Base detaches to become a portable handheld game. These games help children’s cognitive skills plus they can explore music composition, improve physical coordination, and reaction time. The company, based in the East Bay, offers other quality portable play sets, planes, cars, and ball games like Wheelee, Dodge Ball, and others directly on line. For more information visit www.digginactive.com 


  1. Folkmanis
Little Puppets 



These delightful child-sized Little Puppets have plenty of attention to detail. A good price makes them highly collectible, plus great stocking stuffers. These playful friends with movable mouth and forelegs are made by our world famous puppet maker Judy Folkmanis. Based in the East Bay, she started making and selling the puppets on Telegraph Avenue to support her son’s preschool over 35 years ago. He now works with the company. Puppets are perfect playmates to encourage singing, talking and laughing. A puppet is a fun pet for all ages. It’s especially good when traveling as it’s safe, soft, easy to pack, and played with anywhere. Add a puppet when reading to child, put on a puppet show, or share a secret anytime. Find Folkmanis at The Ark Toys and Crafts, Mr. Mopps, Rockridge Kids and Sweet Dreams. For more information visit www.folkmanis.com 


  1. Green Toys
Green Toys Sandwich Shop 



Unique stackable sandwich shop stimulates kids to “cook up” meal-time scenarios with ultra-safe play food that looks good enough to eat. Plus it helps kids develop fine motor and communication skills. Think fantasy play with career chef training as kids play chef, and server. Sandwich Shop comes with everything needed for two complete, three-inch-square sandwiches, including two bread slices, bun top and bottom, burger patty, fillet, cheese slices, produce toppings, plus Sandwich Shop order forms. It is made from food-safe, 100% recycled milk containers and contains no BPA, PVC, phthalates, or external coatings, and is dishwasher safe. The box is made of 100% recyclable corrugated material and is printed with soy ink. Find Green Toys at Whole Foods, The Ark Toys & Crafts, and Five Little Monkeys. For more information visit www.Greentoys.com 


  1. Hero Arts Rubber Stamps
Ink ’N’ Stamp Animal Prints 



Animal critters left their mark on this durable and portable Ink ’n Stamp tub. Contains 18 woodblock stamps and one ink pad for plenty of creativity. Stampers of all ages are wild to play with this new collection of critters. All Hero Arts woodblock stamps are made in the USA on sustainably-harvested woodblocks. Jackie Leventhal, founder of Hero Arts, has come a long way from the cottage where she started her business 35 years ago. As an art teacher, she made stamps in her home with an old, borrowed Vulcanizer. Soon her creations (butterflies, dancing frog, and sun) were in great demand. Hero Arts is a vital force in the growing green stamp movement. Visit www.heroarts.com to order stamp kits directly. 


  1. Klutz
Coin Blasters 



Coin Blasters, a collection of ten competitive table-top target games in a colorful book, offers create-it-yourself fun and skills arcade. Sturdy plastic chutes custom molded to hold a coin steady and upright on its edge offer children fun with extra benefits of eye-hand coordination and finger dexterity. Use simple flick of a finger, and a bit of practice. Anyone can send coin zooming with surprising speed and accuracy at target. Take slap shots at a hockey goalie, shoot baskets at Hot Shot Blaster Hoop, knock teeth out of a monster’s mouth, and more. Everything needed for hours of fun is right inside the book. Includes 2 coin blasters, ramp, and punch-out parts. Klutz found at The Ark Toys & Crafts, Mr. Mopps and Games of Berkeley. For more information visit www.klutz.com 


  1. LeapFrog
LeapPad 2 



LeapPad2 is a personalized learning tablet featuring built-in front and back camera, video recorder, and microphone all in a durable kid friendly case. Offers learning, entertainment, and games that adjust to each child’s level. Includes 4GB of memory, a faster processor, long lasting battery, plus a recharger pack available separately. Bonus includes extensive free content with music player and five learning songs, and Apps like Cartoon Director Creativity, Art Studio, and Pet Pad Writing. Learn through play as kids touch the screen to bring characters and words to life. Tap, draw, and write with stylus, or turn, twist, and shake tablet for exciting motion-based play. Visit www.leapfrog.com to order Leap Frog products. 


  1. LeapFrog
Tag Human Body Discovery Pack 



Children are naturally curious about the world around them. With Tag Human Body Discovery Pack they learn how the human body works. With two-sided interactive chart and game board they discover the human body and understand characteristics of living things. They learn about body’s systems, about food science, nutrition, and diet, and it helps them make smarter choices. Children learn how diseases are caused and can be prevented. Included is jumbo two-sided chart and game board, interactive growth chart, three interactive sticker sheets, set of glow-in-the dark bone stickers, plus 300+ interactive responses, and 40+ learning activities. Visit www.leapfrog.com to order Leap Frog products. 


  1. Moosetache Games



Hike is the fun, new user friendly card game where nature springs surprises and players battle for survival. It encourages learning and teaches about the great outdoors and rules of nature. Players receive 7 cards and play one suited card or specialty card per turn. Specialty cards create twists and turns in the game. “Play” bar at the bottom of suited cards shows players which 3 suits can be played next. Players are knocked out when they can’t play a card. When that happens leftover cards result in points for winning hand. Players score points by outlasting other players and having fewest leftover cards. Score points by capturing “The Worm” with a “Bird” or planting a “Tree” in “Spring.” Find at Games of Berkeley. For more information visit www.moosetachegames.com 


  1. Nukotoys
Animal Planet Wildlands 



Animal Planet Wildlands whisks players into a stunning 3D Savannah where they collect, trade, interact with, and learn about 50 exotic animals such as lions, jaguars,and elephants. These collectible trading cards “magically” interact with apps when tapped on the screen of an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Animal Planet Wildlands, is based on the popular TV property. Once “tapped” into the game, players can run with the animal through environment, take part in races and quests, collect in-game puzzle pieces, and learn about the predator-prey food chain. Players can also view Animal Planet™ videos and learn about an animal’s conservation status, predators and prey, natural behaviors, and other fun, educational facts. Animal Planet Wildlands is available from App Store on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. For more information visit www.nukotoys.com 


  1. Peaceable Kingdom
Hoot Owl Hoot 



You will stimulate cooperation with this color-coded skill building matching game. Everyone who plays can help owls fly back to their nest before the sun comes up. The extra benefits include learning while playing, improvement in eye-hand coordination, and helping children with their concentration and social skills. Play a color card and fly. Draw a sun card and you’re one step closer to daylight. Help all the owls get home. This game includes: 1 game board, 6 owl tokens, 1 sun token, 14 sun cards, and 36 color cards. Find Peaceable Kingdom, our local toy company, at Games of Berkeley, The Ark Toys & Crafts, and Mr. Mopps. For more information visit www.peaceablekingdom 


  1. Colorforms/University Games
Original Colorforms Set - 60th Anniversary Edition 



The Original Colorforms® Set is a reproduction of the inspiring, creative product that launched in 1951. The set includes 350 brightly colored Colorforms pieces for all ages to enjoy in an elegant, spiral-bound book with an intriguing design booklet. Arrange Colorforms’ simple versatile shapes, in endless, fascinating combinations from making a single figure to creating a series of design elements. Colorforms Stick-Ons™ easily attach to any glossy surface, or to one another, by applying slight pressure across the surface of each piece. This set has been recognized by The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Colorforms/University Games are found at The Ark Toys & Crafts, Mr. Mopps, and Games of Berkeley. For more information visit www.colorforms.com 


Dr. Toy’s Guide to Toy Stores Located in and near Berkeley 

Fortunately, there are many excellent, local and accessible toy stores available throughout the East Bay with a great variety of excellent locally made products. A few of these include innovative stores offer recycled or consignment products at a reduced cost. 

The first and most established retailer is the venerable North Berkeley toy store Mr. Mopps is a Berkeley institution. Here you will find the wonderfully realistic Folkmanis hand puppets from birds to animals and a dragon or two. 

The former owner for 40 years, Eugene Yamashita, was pleased to turn over the legacy to new owners Devin McDonald and Jenny Stevenson, who are dedicated to maintaining the same quality and diversity the store has been famous for all these years. The new owners are warm and friendly and want to provide playthings that match your child’s age and interests. Devin grew up near the store. Now he is providing the same level of quality and joy he experienced as a child. They have every intention to “maintain the spirit and range of products at all prices for all ages.” That means any adult who missed out on having a doll, puzzle, games or a construction set can still be satisfied and enjoy the toy they purchase for themselves. It is located at 1405 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (between Rose St. & Vine St.), Berkeley. It is open Tuesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 

You will find the amazing center for games, Games of Berkeley, in Downtown Berkeley. The store offers a wide range of games of all kinds and for all interests, plus it offers, almost every day, special events on board games, such as University Games, Peaceable Kingdom and Blue Orange Games. The owner Mike Sloan and his knowledgeable staff maintain a staggering array of games in all prices and themes. They host a variety of hands on activities to meet many interests. It is located at 2151 Shattuck Avenue. It is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday, 11a.m.-7 p.m. 

We move on to Elmwood to Sweet Dreams. This store, which started in 1971, offers games, puppets, kites, books and toys. The store offers colorful window displays, and an interesting array of products packed into the store from floor to ceiling. The store offers personal service, gift wrapping, and will provide the time to assist you with your selections. You will find Klutz books, Alex creative sets, construction toys like LEGO, wooden toys, and plenty of dolls and plush animals. Also you will find a Skuut first pedal free bike that depends on balance, yo-yos and other traditional toys, and science and craft kits of all kinds. Sweet Dreams is located at 2921 College Ave. (between Ashby Ave. & Russell St.). It is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 

Moving down University to the diversity of 4th Street, you will find a charming European style toy store owned now by Gerald Johnson, who purchased it from founder Pam Byars. The Ark Toys & Crafts is an excellent independent toy store for the discerning buyer. At this store you will find many whimsical toys and hand crafted toys that are made in Europe that will be treasured toys and soon become family heirlooms. The toys are educational, entertaining, and inspiring with various craft and science kits. 

This is a boutique toy store that adults can appreciate. The toys are meant to entertain and inspire children of all ages: puzzles, ice cream makers, craft kits, plus a loft full of excellent children’s books, plenty of those wonderful plush Folkmanis puppets, and activity toys like Hula Hoops, Frisbees, and balls, plus you will find baby gifts to dreamy doll houses, paper dolls, rockets, medieval figurines, and marbles. Plenty of small gifts are available for birthday parties and to give to the child inside of you, and to other playful friends or family. Look up to see a full range of wooden arks, and other fanciful products that fill the ceiling and walls on both sides of the store. The windows are decorated very beautifully. They offer a frequent buyer card to encourage you to return and continue shopping. The Ark Toys & Crafts is at 1812 4th St. (between Hearst Ave. & Virginia St.). It is open Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. 

Just over the border in Albany on Solano, visit the unique Toy Go Round. Instead of throwing away your old toys, recycle them. The store handles a system of consigning toys and then you will receive money to buy new ones. Recycle your toys and receive 50% of the selling price. They ask that you clean and sort your toys and bring them in. What you bring in is recorded and added to your account. It is located at 1361 Solano Ave. It is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Consignment hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-noon. 

Open since 2001, also located in Albany, Five Little Monkeys is the only Green Certified toy store in the Bay Area. This delightful store provides a unique selection of quality toys like Green Toys and Peaceable Kingdom in a fun and friendly environment. They give every customer exceptional customer service. They encourage children to explore toys first hand. The owner, Stephanie Sala, picks items to ensure the products are not only durable, but educational, and encourage imagination. The staff will help you find the perfect gift and they offer complimentary gift wrapping. The store is open earlier on Saturday mornings to accommodate last minute birthday party shopping. Located at 1224 Solano Ave., Albany, its hours are Sunday–Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. 

Another excellent choice is The Discovery Corner Toy and Bookshop located at the always fun and educational place to visit, Lawrence Hall of Science. This gift shop specializes in nature, science and learning products for children, but there are also plenty of excellent, topical books, kits and products that will appeal to scientists of all ages. Members receive a 10% discount on all purchases. On line shopping and gift wrapping is also available. The Discovery Corner inside the lobby of the Lawrence Hall of Science is located at the top of a scenic drive at 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley. It is open Monday–Sunday 10 a.m.-5:00 p.m. 

Child’s Play is another great place to find a range of recycled toys. The store’s website describes specifics about selling or consignment. Lillian and Dawn take gently used products for sale or on consignment. There is customer parking in the back. When items are purchased for resale they are given an “estimated sales price.” If products are taken on consignment payment occurs after sale. The seller is paid 40% of estimate in cash or 50% in store credit. Consignor is paid 50% in cash or 60% in store credit on all merchandise. Buying days and times: Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Call ahead (510) 653-3989 to make sure buyer is in. Toys must have all of their pieces, be clean, and in good working condition. They accept toys and books year round. The consignment period is 90 days. All items not sold are automatically donated after the consignment period ends. All items are automatically reduced 30-50% the last month of the consignment period. More details can be found at www.ghosthound.net. Child’s Play is located at 5858 College Avenue in Oakland (corner of Chabot and College). 

Rockridge Kids, located at 5511 College Ave., in the Rockridge district in Oakland, features kid’s equipment, toys and clothes. The store carries a wide selection of toys including HABA, Plan Toys, puppets, games and the organic Apple Park products. They will also special order desired products and offer a Gift Registry. There is a table set with blocks and other items for kids to play with. They provide good advice, local seminars, and classes through Tulip Grove, and help with installing car seats. Its hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 

Baby World, a treasured store in Oakland since 1983, is located just 4 blocks north of the Macarthur BART station at 4400 Telegraph Avenue (44th Street). There are two other Bay Area locations in San Bruno and San Rafael. The owner, Cristina Cabello, provides flexible hours and is open Monday- Saturday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. There is free street parking on 44th St. The store specializes in locally made clothing, toys and furniture and emphasizes eco-friendly products. The well trained staff is knowledgeable about all items which they also will deliver. They offer gift registry online, free gift wrap, will ship via UPS, and have option for in-store pick up when you order online, plus they special order and also provide a frequent buyer program. The store offers the largest selection of strollers and car seats which are installed at no additional cost. Among the companies included are HABA, Plan Toy, Green Toys, Eeboo, Manhattan Toy Company, Lamaze, Brio, Schylling, Peaceable Kingdom, Uncle Goose, Tiny Love, Sassy and Mary Meyer, and others. 

There are many choices for all of the children (and playful adults) in your life so regardless of where you shop or what you buy, when you visit these stores you and others on your list will enjoy your gifts for a long time. Please tell the stores that “Dr. Toy sent you” and ask them to help you to find exactly the right plaything. 

This handy checklist will help when you evaluate a toy for its value. These are questions to ask about the potential of any product. These questions are also available in my book, Smart Play/Smart Toys, along with specific guidance on play and toys from baby to older children, and for children with special needs plus many ideas about things to make and do. 



Dr. Toy’s Tips on Selecting Toys 

  • Safety
Is the toy safe? Are there potential hazards? Is the product too small? Are there sharp edges or loose ties? Is it nontoxic? Will it take rough treatment? Does it meet Consumer Product Safety Standards? Is there a warranty? 

  • Fun
Does it entertain the child? Does it amuse, delight, excite? 

  • Age Grading
Is the product age-appropriate? Does it fit the child’s age, skills, and abilities? Will it hold the child’s interest? Will it make the child happy? 

  • Design
Is it easy to use? Does it look good? Does it feel good? 

  • Versatility
Is it versatile? Is there more than one use for the product? 

  • Durability
Will it last a long time? Children play hard and subject their toys to a lot of abuse and wear. 

  • Interesting
Is it enticing? Is it fun to play with? Does it offer an opportunity to learn, and to think? Does it teach about the child’s environment? 

  • Creativity
Will it expand the child’s creativity? 

The right products can expand the child’s imagination in art, crafts, hobbies, language, reading, music, movement, and drama. 

  • Usability
Will it frustrate or challenge the child? Does it offer something new to learn, to practice, or try? Will the child know how to use the product? Or, will it be too difficult to use without adult assistance? 

  • Packaging
Does the product match the package and the package matches the product? If the toy does not match ads or packaging it can be disappointing. Is age-grading clear? Is the item in the store like the product shown in the print or TV advertisement? 

  • Personal Values
Will it nurture childhood? Does it help the child express emotions, experience concern for others, practice positive social interaction? Does it promote wholesome childhood values? Or are there any violent, sexist, or other negative aspects to the product? 

  • Educational
What will it teach? Does it expand positive self-esteem, values, understanding, and cultural awareness? Does it offer practice in skill-building? Eye-hand coordination? Fine and large motor skills? Communication? Does it educate the child about the environment? The community? The world? History? Computers? Other skills? 

  • Maintenance
Can it be cleaned and reused? If it is not washable, can it be cleaned in some practical way? 


Is it affordable? Does the price match the value received? 



Dr. Toy’s Questions on Appeal and Value of Toys: 

  • Will the toy challenge the physical and mental abilities of a child in the specified age range?
  • Does it play well?
  • How long does it hold the child’s interest?
  • What about the packaging? Is it easy to read? Is it unique? Does the toy or the package have anything new and special to offer? Does the packaging tell the truth? Does it sell the toy? Are the directions clearly written? Are they well-illustrated?
  • Are the materials well-made and long lasting?
  • Is the toy made of good materials?
  • Does it meet safety standards?
  • Is the price reasonable?
  • Is the name appropriate?
  • Does the name sell the toy?

Most of all, remember “Let’s Play!” 



© 2012, Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, Berkeley, CA  


Summary of Local Toy Stores and Play Spaces 








Stevanne Auerbach, PhD, for the past 40 years one of the most respected professionals in toys, known as Dr. Toy, has focused on child development, education, special education, psychology, parent education, and learning as related to toys and children’s products. She selects and evaluates the newest, best, educational, creative, and active toys, games, and other products for her unique Dr. Toy Best Products award programs. Dr. Auerbach, author of three books on toys, writes about toys and products for Dr. Toy’s Guide, www.drtoy.com. Her book, Smart Play/Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child with a High P.Q. - Play Quotient, is published in 13 countries. See also her new App–Dr. Toy’s Gift Guide https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dr-toys-best-gift-guide/id486720439?mt=8 

Send any updates to Dr. Toy c/o of the Berkeley Daily Planet. 


New: 2012 Election in Berkeley: West Berkeley Voters Provide Measure T’s Margin of Defeat

By Rob Wrenn
Friday November 23, 2012 - 06:52:00 PM

Measure T was this year’s closest election contest in Berkeley, with the outcome uncertain for over a week following the election.

Measure T would have made changes to West Berkeley zoning and to the West Berkeley plan to allow greater height and density on large sites.

Measure T lost by a margin of 512 votes, 25,291 to 24,779. In West Berkeley, the area west of San Pablo Avenue, the measure lost by 649 votes. In the rest of the city east of San Pablo, the measure finished ahead by a small margin. 

Measure T West Berkeley Re-zoning 



Vote Margin for No 


District 1 



District 2 



District 3 



District 4 



District 5 



District 6 



District 7 



District 8 















Note West Berkeley includes all precincts in Districts 1 and 2 located west of San Pablo. 

60% of the voters in West Berkeley precincts voted against the measure. In precinct 990, which encompassed most of the area that would have been re-zoned, 69% of voters voted No. 

Both Councilmembers who represent parts of West Berkeley, Darryl Moore (District 2) and Linda Maio (District 1), supported the measure but the measure lost in both their districts.  

It was 53% to 47% for No in Maio’s district and 56% to 44% for No in Moore’s district. Moore was easily re-elected, winning District 2 with 59% of the vote against 28% for Denisha DeLane and 13% for Adolfo Cabral. Both Delane and Cabral opposed Measure T. 

In Precinct 990, the combined total for DeLane and Cabral was 19 votes higher than Moore’s vote. But in every other precinct, including two in West Berkeley, Moore’s vote exceeded the combined total of his two opponents. 

In the rest of the city, the vote was relatively evenly divided. As with Measure S, there was the traditional division between hills voters and flatlands voters, but it was not very pronounced. 

Margins in favor of the measure in the hills were for the most part not large. Margins against the measure in Districts 3 (South Berkeley), 4 (Downtown and Central Berkeley), and 7 (Telegraph area), all represented by progressive councilmembers who opposed the measure, were relatively small. 

District 4 voters opposed Measure T by a slim margin of 53 votes, or 50.5%, the same as the citywide percentage against the measure. Voters who live in the two Downtown precincts in District 4, many of whom are also students, supported the measure. 

Measure T’s strongest support came far from west Berkeley, in the hills above Claremont Ave in District 8, the only precincts in the city where over 60% of voters supported the measure. 

Student voters split evenly on the measure. In thirteen student precincts in Districts 7 and 8 (consolidated to seven precincts this year), Measure T lost by just 11 votes. The measure passed in some student precincts and failed in others. 40% of the students who voted did not vote either way on the measure. 

Citywide, about 17% of Berkeley voters did not vote on Measure T, a higher percentage than the 11% who didn’t vote on Measure S. 

Campaign Contributions 

The Coalition for a Sustainable West Berkeley raised $44,354 to support the measure: over two-thirds of the funds came from Douglas J. Herst and Herst Ventures. Douglas Herst has proposed the Peerless Greens community project for land he owns on 4th Street in West Berkeley. Measure T would have allowed him greater flexibility for developing his land. 

Six members of the City Council supported Measure T, as did Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and State Senator Loni Hancock. The Berkeley Democratic Club, the city’s most well-heeled Democratic Club, also supported the measure. 

Opponents had the support of the West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies. Opposition from CEOs and presidents of businesses like Urban Ore, Acme Bread and Libby Laboratories probably helped sway some voters against the measure. This writer also opposed the measure and his name appears on the list of No on T endorsers. 

The Save West Berkeley Committee raised $23,545 to oppose the measure. While the pro-T coalition was able to pay for three mailers to voters, the anti-T committee had enough for one mailer and apparently were able to effectively get their message to voters.

New: 2012 Election in Berkeley: Turnout Down, Majority Voted Absentee

By Rob Wrenn
Friday November 23, 2012 - 04:39:00 PM

Turnout in Berkeley in this year’s election was down compared to the 2008 presidential election. 9% fewer votes were counted this year. 73.7% of registered voters voted compared to 77.5% in 2008.

Turnout was also below 2004’s turnout, with 259 fewer votes cast. The number votes cast in 2012 was still well above that of the 1996 and 2000 elections, in part due to increased population and a larger pool of people eligible to vote., 

Berkeley Turnout Presidential Elections 


Ballots Cast 

and turnout 

Dem. Candidate 






37,859 73.6% 





42,167 78.1% 





54,409 90.0% 





61,134 92.5% 





54,163 90.3% 


Student Turnout Down 

A big drop in student turnout accounts for much of the citywide drop. In the student precincts of District 7, north of Dwight Way, 37% fewer votes were cast in 2012 than in 2008. Fewer votes were cast in these precincts than in 2004 as well. 


Change in votes cast by district 


Ballots Cast 











































Dist. 7 





More votes were cast this year in District 2, the only district with an increase. There was a small drop in votes cast in Districts 1 and 3 but voting levels were still well above those of 2004. 

Absentee Voting 

For the first time in a presidential election, a majority of voters in Berkeley used vote by mail ballots. Many of these ballots were dropped off at polling places and counted after election day. 

Absentee Voting in Berkeley Elections 


Percent Absentee 












Absentee voting is more common in the hills. In District 5 and 6 and in the hills of District 8 about 60% voted absentee. Students still vote overwhelmingly at the polls 

In thirteen student precincts (consolidated to seven) in Districts 7 and 8, only 26.7% voted by mail. 

Absentee Voting by Council District 

November 6, 2012 Election 

Council District 

Percent Absentee 











13 student precincts D7&8 



The difference in voting habits between hills residents and students helps explain the seesaw vote count on Measure S this year. It led in the initial absentees, disproportionately from the hills, by a 58%-42% margin, but with votes cast at the polls added, the measure finished election night behind by 57% to 43%. The count of the remaining absentee and provisional votes narrowed the margin to 52% to 48%. 

New: 2012 Election in Berkeley: Student Votes Help Defeat Measure S

By Rob Wrenn
Friday November 23, 2012 - 12:12:00 PM

Measure S, which would have prohibited sitting on sidewalks in Berkeley’s Commercial Districts from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., was the hottest issue on this year’s presidential election ballot in Berkeley.

The measure failed with 25,523 voters, 47.7%, voting Yes, and 27,981 or 52.3% voting No. More people cast votes pro or con S than cast votes for a mayoral candidate. 88.4% of the 60,559 ballots cast in Berkeley contained votes on the measure, a high percentage for a Berkeley ballot measure.

UC Students played a major role in defeating the measure. In thirteen near-campus precincts (consolidated down to seven in this year’s election), 70% voted against the measure, and a bit over half the citywide margin of defeat came from these precincts. 


Measure S Anti-Sitting 





Vote Margin for No 



District 1 



District 2 



District 3 



District 4 



District 5 



District 6 



District 7 



District 8 









13 student 






Note: These13 student precincts were consolidated into 7 for this election. They include all but one UC dorm, northside and southside coops, fraternities, sororities, and some apartments.I estimate that at least 90% of votes in these combined precincts were cast by students. 

Thousands more students voted in other precincts with more of a mix of non-student voters. 

These precincts include all but one of UC’s dormitories in Berkeley, and include student coops on the Northside and southside of Campus, and fraternities and sororities, along with some apartment buildings north of Dwight Way largely occupied by students. 

While students who vote often don’t vote the whole ballot, only 21% of the voters in the thirteen student precincts failed to vote on Measure S. By contrast 40% of these voters didn’t vote on Measure T, the West Berkeley rezoning measure. 

While students played a major role in Measure S’s defeat, it should be noted that geographically oppostion to the measure was very broad: the measure failed in 68 of the 101 precincts reporting this year, losing throughout the flatlands south of Cedar Street. 

Measure S failed in every precinct near the commercial streets where sitting on the sidewalk is most prevalent. Voters in every precinct bordering Telegraph Avenue and every precinct bordering Shattuck Avenue between Rose Street and the Oakland border voted No. 

Measure S got its greatest support from precincts in the Northeast Berkeley hills in District 6 where the measure gained over 60% support in six precincts, and in the hills above Claremont Avenue in District 8 where it got over 70% in two precincts. 

In District 8, the student and tenant vote in the northern part of the district largely negated this hills vote. The Measure passed by only 6 votes in District 8. 

In addition to Mayor Bates, three councilmembers endorsed Measure S: Laurie Capitelli of District 5; Susan Wengraf of District 6 and Gordon Wozniak of District 8. Their districts were the only districts to favor the measure. In Mayor Bates’ precinct in the LeConte neighborhood between Telegraph and Shattuck, 64% vote against the measure. 

Measure S was opposed by Max Anderson, who represents District 3 (South Berkeley); by Jesse Arreguin, District 4 (Downtown and Central Berkeley); and by Kriss Worthington, District 7 (Telegraph area). 60% of District 3’s residents voted No, as did 57% in District 4 and 63% in student-rich District 7. 

Two councilmembers, Linda Maio in District 1 (northwest Berkeley) and Darryl Moore in District 2 (southwest Berkeley) voted to put the measure on the ballot, but did not endorse the measure. District 1 and 2 voters rejected S by 54% and 56% respectively. 

The division between “moderate” voters in the hills and “progressive” voters in the rest of the city is nothing new. In the 1994 election Berkeley voters supported Measure O to ban sitting and lying on sidewalks in commercial zones. It passed citywide by a 54% to 46% margin. After passage it was immediately challenged in court and the anti-sitting provisions never took effect. 

Measure O also won in Districts 5, 6 and 8 and lost in the city’s other districts. But this year, things were different. Support in the hills was weaker than in 1994 and opposition was stronger in West Berkeley and South Berkeley and much stronger this year in Downtown and near campus precincts. 

Measure S supporters waged a strong campaign. By election day, the Coalition for Berkeley Civil Sidewalks, Yes on S, had raised $103,213.42, much more than was raised to support or oppose any other measure on this year’s ballot. Developers and owners of commercial property, such as Panoramic Interests and Rue-ell Enterprises, provided a majority of the funding for the pro-S campaign. Some of this money went to pay for 3 mailers sent to Berkeley voters. 

Opponents of Measure S, by contrast, received only $16,182.66 in contributions according to their October filing. They reported mailing one mailer to voters. Filings by candidates and campaigns can be viewed here on the City’s Web site

The Strange Case of Wal-Mart and the National Labor Relations Board (Opinion)

By John Logan
Wednesday November 21, 2012 - 08:35:00 PM

For the first time in its half-century history, Wal-Mart is facing the prospect of significant labor strife. Wal-Mart workers throughout the country have been participating in short strikes and other workplace actions for the past two months. They are demanding higher wages, better benefits, more full time work, and respect on the job. And for the first time in five decades, Wal-Mart is deeply concerned, fearing these actions will escalate to something beyond its control. In many ways, however, they already have – the protesting Wal-Mart workers have attracted support from a wide variety of women, immigrant, civil rights and community organizations, as well as tens of thousands of allies on social media. 

In addition to responding the way it has always responded to worker protests—asserting that it offers attractive positions, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and that the overwhelming majority of its associates have no interest in union membership—Wal-Mart has also responded in another, more surprising, way: last Friday, it filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accusing the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) of violating labor law by orchestrating workplace protests for more than 30 days without petitioning for a NLRB election to represent the workers. Wal-Mart wants the labor board to seek an injunction in federal court to block the worker protests on Friday. 

It seems unlikely that Wal-Mart will get support for an injunction from the board – the protests are not about union recognition, but about respect on the job, and the protesting employees are not a union “subsidiary” as Wal-Mart contends -- and it is almost impossible that it will get one before Friday. But senior management in Bentonville likely has another reason for going to the board: by filing the charge, Wal-Mart is sending a clear warning to employees thinking of participating in Friday’s action. And if employees had any lingering doubts about the company’s determination to squash the growing protests, a Wal-Mart spokesperson warned workers on national television news on Tuesday that “there could be consequences” if they fail to turn up for work on Friday – a statement that may well constitute an illegal threat under the National Labor Relations Act. According to employees, local mangers have been holding meetings with groups of employees to reinforce the message that workers who participate in protests will face “consequences.” In response, the organization representing employees, United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), has filed a changed with the board, which could rule that senior management is attempting to intimidate employees from participating in a legally protected activity. 

It is deeply ironic that Wal-Mart is now turning to the NLRB to prevent its employees for taking action to protest against poor conditions and management retaliation for speaking up. Wal-Mart is certainly no stranger to the labor board. According to the respected international organization Human Rights Watch, “Wal-Mart has repeatedly used tactics that run afoul of US law and directly infringe on workers' right to freedom of association.” 

So what is Wal-Mart’s record before the board? Between 2000-2005, NLRB regional directors issued 39 complaints accusing the retail giant of unlawful anti-union behavior. These complaints involved 101 separate incidents of anti-union conduct at dozens of Wal-Mart stores across the country. The allegations of unlawful conduct included discriminatory hiring, firing, disciplining, and policy application; "unit packing" and worker transfers to dilute union support; illegally addressing worker concerns to undermine union activity; workplace changes motivated by an anti-union animus; illegally soliciting and remedying grievances; threatening benefit loss if workers choose to organize; interrogating workers about union activity; illegal no-talking rules; discriminatory application of solicitation rules; discrimination against union hand-billers; discrimination against pro-union workers; and illegal no-solicitation rules, including bans on union insignia, bans on discussing unions, and the confiscation of union literature. The number of NLRB complaints against Wal-Mart declined after 2005 only because efforts by employees to organize at the workplace also declined —n other words, the unlawful anti-union behavior had the intended effect. 

Many of the NLRB complaints – mostly dealt with by the Bush NLRB, which was certainly no friend of unions—were eventually resolved by settlements that required the company to remedy the alleged violations and post notices in its stores promising not to engage in any further unfair labor practices charged. Unfortunately, this penalty that acts as no deterrent against unlawful behavior by powerful corporations such as Wal-Mart. 

After years of intimidating employees who have tried to speak up against low wages and poor conditions, Wal-Mart has now turned to the NLRB and courts to prevent its associates from taking a stance for respect at the workplace. But this time round, as the company clearly understands, the ongoing protests will not be so easy to crush. This time the “consequences” might just backfire on the bully of Bentonville. 

John Logan is Professor and Director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.

Karma’s a Bitch (Opinion)

By Carol Denney
Wednesday November 21, 2012 - 12:13:00 AM

Don’t miss it: the special “worksession” Tuesday, November 27th, 5:30 pm at the City Council Chambers (Martin Luther King at Center) where the Measure S losers weep together over Telegraph Avenue. You’ll enjoy the “Options and Opportunities" report with the usual; wifi and sparkling lights for shoppers, crackdowns on panhandlers, and the usual remake of People’s Park.  

Karma’s a bitch, said a friend last night who anticipated just this kind of excessive focus not on the city commercial districts in the most economic distress (according to the most recent city reports), but on Telegraph Avenue because, well, the biggest bear at the town picnic is always UC Berkeley, and that bear gets what it wants at the Berkeley City Council. 

What my friend meant was the bombed-out devastation at three corners of Haste and Telegraph was avoidable, even predictable. Cody’s Bookstore thrived under Fred and Pat Cody until acquired and mismanaged by Andy Ross, who thought expanding to 4th Street and a store in San Francisco was a great idea in the middle of the crisis in book and newspaper publishing and who turned the easements the Cody’s had deliberately created for street life into war zones. 

Across the intersection, the former Berkeley Inn’s residents in one wing were informed that the building would be torched the night before it happened – the arsonists wanted to avoid loss of life if at all possible. To this day no one has been prosecuted for the deliberate arson. Ken Sarachan, who bought the now-vacant lot, has tried repeatedly to build replacement housing and retail on the lot which previous city councils turned down. The current council is now suing him instead of working constructively with one of the few merchants on Telegraph who had the integrity to take a stand against the lunacy of making sitting down a crime.  

And then there’s the other corner, where any previous tenant can tell you tales of the mold, the electrical wiring and habitability issues that could have cost lives. The city of Berkeley had ample opportunity to insist that there were enough code and safety violations to warrant serious intervention, but somehow didn’t find the time. 

But they’re taking time next week, right before Christmas, to listen to the anti-sitting law promoters whine that they need a $100,000 grant, some of which comes from the City of Berkeley, to address their crying need for more profits. Don’t miss it! It’s the best show in town.

An Open Letter to UC from Occupy the Farm

Tuesday November 20, 2012 - 02:00:00 PM

On Friday November 16, 2012, the University of California (UC) razed all of the publicly planted crops on the Gill Tract.

Occupy the Farm is disappointed that the UC has unneccessarily destroyed the hard work of the community and food that could have fed it. Over the course of the last month, members of the public sowed edible winter greens together with fava beans, a popular and effective cover crop. Had the UC left these in place, the Gill Tract would have benefited from the necessary nutrient building over the course of the winter, and would have produced food for the community. The weekly distribution and harvest events could have continued that, over the course of the summer and early fall, have yielded over one ton of food from the crops planted during the occupation last Spring. This free food was distributed locally in Albany, Berkeley, Richmond and Oakland at pop-up farm stands organized by Occupy the Farm.

However, the successes of the last seven months inspire us to continue to organize. Despite the UC police raid and the destruction of over half of the crops in May, we still managed to grow and distribute thousands of pounds of free food to the community this summer. The unprecedented public access to the Gill Tract this spring allowed thousands of Bay Area residents to finally set foot on the land and farm. In August, a successful petition for referendum was submitted against the Albany City Council approval of UC development. In September, Whole Foods cancelled its development plan with the UC entirely. The UC also announced a modest ten-year guarantee to preserve the northern piece of the land and promised a nebulous College of Natural Resources program for urban agriculture.

Now is the time to compare our position to that of the UC, and to make it clear what we are fighting for.

We want to see the Gill Tract preserved as farmland, in perpetuity.
Some of our members have been fighting to save the Gill Tract from UC development for decades. In 1997, the UC administration walked away from similar commitments - collaborative talks with a coalition of community groups called BACUA (Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture), that spearheaded the establishment of a center for urban agriculture on the Gill Tract. At the same time, the UC released a Master Plan that revealed its intention to build baseball fields and structures on the prime farmland, stating, "The College of Natural Resources now plans to relocate its agricultural operations from the Gill Tract to an off-site location. The operations are being relocated because the existing facilities are substandard, have inadequate security, and because academic research is moving in new directions that require new types of facilities.” Dean Gilles' recent announcement of a ten-year commitment to
'metropolitan agriculture' on the tract is a step in the right direction, but it is not long term, toward the interest of future generations. If the UC wishes to demonstrate a commitment to urban agriculture at the Gill Tract, it should legally re-designate this land so that it is preserved as an agricultural commons, in perpetuity.

We are organizing to ensure that the public has access to the land and a say in how it is used; the UC has yet to host a single open meeting.
Since April, Occupy the Farm has held over 10 open forums about the Gill Tract. These have occurred on the UC Campus, in the Albany community, the UC Village, and other locations in the Bay Area. Hundreds of people have attended these events in an ongoing collaboration to develop a collective vision for the future use of the land. It is unfortunate that, despite several invitations, the UC administration continues to refuse to engage with the public at these forums, or to hold any public meeting of their own. An urban agriculture program at California's public University should not just make reference to, but must include local urban communities, to consolidate our collective experience and knowledge as urban farmers, and educate the public at large.

We believe ALL of the Gill Tract should be used for urban agriculture; the UC intends to use only a small portion of the land.
While our cultivation has focused on the northern portion of the Gill Tract - the last substantial parcel of undeveloped agricultural soil in the East Bay - the southern portion of the tract also has nutrient rich soil. These southern portions are in dire need of soil testing and bio-remediation. We believe that any truly comprehensive urban agriculture program at the Gill Tract must offer accessible programs to test and rehabilitate soil contaminated by industry and development. Unfortunately, 100% of this southern portion of the Gill Tract is still slated for immediate commercial development by the UC. On the northern portion of the Gill Tract, the UC administration has not revealed the exact percentage of land that will actually be used for its urban agriculture program. Presently, the vast majority of the northern portion of the land is allocated to corn-based genetic research to benefit the biotechnology industry. The corn is grown to be inedible and the the research
results in private patents, like the one that belongs to Sarah Hake, who recently patented a gene in corn that she discovered through research at Gill Tract. She applied this gene, Corngrass1, to the genetic modification of switch-grass to force to remain in its vegetative state, to never truly die, to be 'forever young'.

Both the northern and southern portions of the Gill Tract are invaluable resources for community-based urban agriculture. We are committed to using both portions for the benefit of the community or the production of urban agricultural knowledge.

To get involved or receive action updates:

- find us on facebook as the community group "Occupy the Farm"

- follow us on twitter @occupyfarm

- contact gilltractfarm@riseup.net

- text "gilltractfarm" to 41411 to receive notifications via cell p

The Story of A Walmart Strike

By David Bacon
Tuesday November 20, 2012 - 11:36:00 AM

SAN LEANDRO, CA (11/17/12) -- On past Black Fridays, the nation's annual post-Thanksgiving shopping celebration, Walmart stores have seen such a crush of shoppers that people have been trampled trying to get through the doors. On this coming Black Friday, however, shoppers are more likely to see protesting workers..  

People have been criticizing the chain's low wages and unfair competition with local businesses for years. But for a long time the company has been able to keep its workers from joining in. Where it could, Walmart has tried to give itself a paternalistic, we're-all-one-big-family face. Where that hasn't worked, it's resorted to the age-old tactics of firings and fear.
But Walmart workers are waking up. Supported by a number of unions, they've organized a series of work stoppages, the latest and most extensive of which will take place on Black Friday. They call their organization OURWalmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart).
Strikes at Walmart stores are usually short walkouts by groups of mostly-young people, propelled by pent-up anger at abuse by managers and wages so low no one can really live on them. My heart goes out to these workers. I, too, was fired more than once for trying to organize a union where I worked. I remember how it felt to be an open activist in a plant where the company made no secret of its hatred for what we wanted - a union.
So when I went to take pictures at a walkout at the San Leandro Walmart, I wanted to make visible the faces of people with the courage to defy their boss. And I wanted to see how people who like that union idea, as I do, can help keep the company from firing them. This is what I saw.
We got together in the parking lot of the BART rapid transit station a few blocks from the store. Several dozen supporters joined a handful of workers who'd already been fired, along with a couple of associates (as the workers call themselves) from other Walmarts in the area. Together marched down Hesperian Boulevard, through the parking lot, to the doors.
Once enough people had gathered, both fired and currently employed workers held a brief memorial for Enrique, an associate who'd recently died. Inside the store, they'd set up a small memorial outside the break room. The crowd outside walked solemnly through the doors and down the aisles heading for it, carrying Enrique's photograph in front.
Raymond Bravo, who works in the Richmond store, and other workers held a banner as they walked past the shelves and shoppers. Misty Tanner later told me she'd been fired after several years at Walmart, most recently as a member of a crew doing renovations at the store in Richmond. What must she have felt, walking through the aisles of Walmart, where she'd been terminated not long before?
These fired workers are very present in the minds of those still working. I remembered my own experience, after I and several friends were terminated and blacklisted at a Silicon Valley semiconductor plant. We tried not to disappear too. It wasn't just that we didn't want to feel the company had beaten us. We found it actually reduced the fear among the union supporters who were still working. They could see we didn't just disappear (what the company undoubtedly wanted). We refused to become a bad dream to frighten people. Everyone knew we'd been fired anyway. Remaining present in people's lives meant we weren't a dark secret people feared talking about.
I could see that the Walmart workers, both working and fired, still cared for each other. They too were not about to forget what the company had done, or let anyone else forget either.
At the door to the break room, a worker who'd clocked out, Dominic Ware, stood by as we laid our carnations on the floor in memory of Enrique. Two store managers stood by watching us. Another followed us, yelling in a loud voice that we had no right to be there. He was especially bothered by photographs, and kept putting his hand in front of the camera to stop me from taking them.
It was pretty obvious that they wanted to disrupt what was intended to be a respectful and solemn remembrance for Enrique. Even further, they tried to make absolutely sure that every worker in the store knew exactly how much the company hated what was happening. Dominic stayed calm, an example to his coworkers that no one needed to be frightened.

Supporters and workers together put their flowers on the store floor. I wondered how long it would take for managers to remove them, and all the evidence of this job action.
Misty Tanner, a Walmart worker fired because she wants the right to organize..

After we left the store, Dominic spoke at a short rally outside, while the sun set and it grew dark. Nurses from the California Nurses Association, longshore and warehouse workers from the ILWU, machinist union representatives, young community activists and other supporters stood together with the Walmart workers.
Three workers from this store, Dominic Ware, Marsela Lopez-Navarro and Cecilia Gurule, had clocked out and joined the rally. That took courage. Everyone in the store knows the company not only hates unions, but also has fired workers who want to organize.
Once the rally was over, workers were unsure whether the company would let them return to their jobs. So everyone got behind them and marched back to the door, where a manager met them. Dominic, Cecilia and Marsela then read him a statement declaring their right to participate in collective action -- the basic activity involved in forming a workers' association or a union. If the company tried to keep them off the job or retaliated against them, they warned, it would be a violation of Federal labor law.
Then we all walked back into the store, accompanying Dominic and Cecilia to the break room. There the key test was whether they would be able to punch the time clock and go back to work. It's hard to describe how good it felt to see Dominic come out of the break room in his work vest and go back to his job.
I was never able to go back to work at National Semiconductor, or the other workplaces where I was fired. In our Walmart demonstration there were fired workers who shared that bitter experience. But for this one evening, we were able to help Dominic, Marsela and Cecelia do what should be their right without question - challenge their employer and declare their open support for the right to organize.
No one should have to be afraid that such a basic right of free thought, speech or association might cost them their job. Yet the reality in this country is that it so often does. And at Walmart, the human casualties are very much present.
But for one evening direct action by courageous workers, supported by people living in the community around them, kept firings from happening. That was a big step toward making that right something that exists in real life, not just on paper.

Coming in 2013 from Beacon Press:
The Right to Stay Home: Ending Forced Migration and the Criminalization of Immigrants

KPFA Interview with Yuying Chen, Chinese factory worker and health and safety activist (advance to 32:40)

See also Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008)
Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008
See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US
Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)
See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)
Entrevista de David Bacon con activistas de #yosoy132 en UNAM
Interview of David Bacon by activists of #yosoy132 at UNAM (in Spanish)
Two lectures on the political economy of migration by David Bacon
For more articles and images, see http://dbacon.igc.org
YouTube - Videos from this email

Hanging out the foreclosure sign? Berkeley's Strawberry Creek Lodgers protest..again

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Sunday November 18, 2012 - 01:12:00 PM

Strawberry Creek Lodge tenants are thinking about staging a protest outside the Board of Trustees’ meeting tomorrow. Monday, November 19, 2012.

SCL tenant Jane Eisley reports that the Tenant Association sent a November 14 memo to the Lodge Board of Trustees regarding proposed change in ownership: (1) “We reject the Board of Trustees plan to change the ownership of Strawberry Creek Lodge.” Motion passed with 45 ayes, 1 nay and 3 abstentions. (2) “We insist that the Board consider alternative financing, phased seismic work, apartment renewal by attrition, and negotiate new terms of the 23 Section 8 slots.” Motion passed with 37 ayes, 1 nay, no abstentions.

The Board will meet on Monday, November 19, 2012 at the office of board member Holly Near-Brown, and cast a vote that will approve transfer of ownership to a new partnership with one of three candidate management companies, unless at least a third of the members are persuaded to vote no.  

Strawberry Creek Lodge was built 1962 at 1320 Addison Street in Berkeley, California to provide adequate rental housing for lower to middle income senior citizens. In 2009, SCL achieved a 66.69 (out of 100) inspection score, which is 26.6% worse than the average for all Section 8. The Lodge has a total of 150 total units,53 “assisted units,” as they are mistakenly referred to. This not-for-profit complex consists of three adjoining buildings in a park-like setting. Some are one-bedroom apartments, most are small Section 8 studios, all with bathrooms and kitchenettes. An elective, not-free evening meal is served. There is no longer a grocery supermarket within walking distance. 

It is owned by the Strawberry Creek Lodge Foundation, a community based organization governed by a volunteer board of Trustees which contracts with California Community Housing (CCH) to manage the Lodge. Income is derived from residents’ rents and HUD subsidies under Section 8. Board members include: attorney William Samsel, banker Steven Carr, Albany- based social worker Ada Burko, Suzanne Cohen, contractor Ted Temple, interior designer Bev Wilson, and Director of Policy at Health Research for Action Holly Brown-Williams. 

Tom Slocumb is a Board ex-member, now a resident. Board meetings are attended by representatives of the Tenants Association. Tenant representatives to the Board are Saeeda Khan and Rachel Starr. However, Board member Steve Carr decreed that only Saeeda and Jerry Essel could come to the meetings related to choosing the management company. 

In March 2012, the Berkeley Daily Planet received a message from two tenants that “while Strawberry Creek Lodge is being refurbished it's causing lots of problems for the residents.” There have been health and disruption problems at SCL. “We are on pins and needles,” declared a former hospice patient.  

They estimated that there may be a dozen or so old old tenants — people who typically came to SCL when they were just plain ‘old’, then in their sixties perhaps. The tenancy is divided – the “others” are mostly boomers and in their sixties. It is the older group that has been most impacted by aspects of the rehab work that was underway: inconsiderate construction managers; toxicity from new carpeting and painting; moving their belongings elsewhere without their knowledge. Indeed, this has happened in at least one other Berkeley Section 8 seniors’ project, wherein an elderly person who speaks no English returned to find her belongings piled up in the corridor, while workers departed for the weekend. In the words of a geriatrician with a vantage point, “I have heard about the latest Strawberry Creek Lodge drama. I get the sense that the administration tends to use a lord-of-the-manor approach towards its tenants …” Seniors without power, they are further handicapped by not being computer literate.  

On Tuesday evening, March 27, 2012, a goodly crowd gathered in Strawberry’s meeting area-dining room, a long skinny room in which it is not always possible for everyone to hear everything being said. Approximately fifty persons attended; I was told that 33 is a typical SCL turnout. Board member Bill Samsel fended questions and problems, reportedly talking over one gutsy woman tenant. Six-eight persons constituting what might have functioned as a resource panel were situated at the front of the room, while the SCL property manager “floated.” Lodgers’ questions and problems focused mainly on fears of eviction and complaints about work that was underway.  

I commenced an email trail when I started work on the report that appeared in the Planet Friday March 30, 2012 issue. A friend suggested contacting Be Tran in Housing, who referred me to Rachel in the Berkeley Housing Authority, who referred me to Mike Rogers, "...the consultant, hired by Strawberry Creek Lodge to oversee the property rehabilitation." He ultimately emailed “please feel free to give me a call on either line and I'd be happy to talk about Strawberry Creek." Rogers did not return my several phone calls. Why the runaround? I wondered. A Tenants Association’s rebuttal appeared in the Planet April 17, 2012 issue. 

The role of CCH in all of this is dark. They probably introduced the idea of seismic retrofit and the federal tax credit program to pay for it. The story begins with resident Saeeda Khan, who spent much time and effort applying for and negotiating some additional Section 8 slots for the Lodge from the Berkeley Housing Authority. The BHA, which controls the Section 8 vouchers, demanded "substantial rehabilitation" as a condition. A Board member who is a contractor resigned from the Board in order to be the project manager of the rehab. He imposed a scheme that had people being forced to move into "hotel units" while their apartments were rehabbed. It was supposed to go very fast, but he hired various subcontractors who were not up to the job. One of them was caught violating the rules on asbestos containment and the whole thing was shut down. The rehab itself had features no one liked, such as taking out the bath tubs and substituting shower stalls. CCH’s response was to send many new employees into the building, supposedly to "help" with the rehab.  

CCH has been advising the Board on the tax credit program. Their expectation may well have been that they would end up owning the building. Instead, the Board has been interviewing management companies and may select one at the Monday, Nov 19 meeting. Whoever gets it will have a 51% interest in the partnership, while the Board retains 49%. After 10 years, the liability for the tax credits goes away and the partnership is dissolved, with the 51% partner owning the building. The tax credit program would be unnecessary —HUD would loan the money for a modest rehab— if it were not for the seismic retrofit.  

Board member Steve Carr seems to be the main proponent, but he has browbeaten the rest of the Board by threatening how they will feel if there is a quake. CCH has an expert —Mike Rogers— who informed residents about the tax credit financing. Strawberry Creek Lodge, a Berkeley institution, is about to be transferred to a "partnership" Many tenants feel that the Board of Trustees, which, as the SCL Foundation, owns the Lodge, is going to give them away to become eligible for federal tax credit funding. Why? So they can do a destructive seismic retrofit and some remodeling. 

Tenant activist Pondurenga Das reports “We are having an urgent problem with our Board of Trustees, who are planning to ‘sell’ the Lodge into a corporate partnership with another nonprofit corporation. The new partner will get a controlling interest. It's all a scheme to raise $14 million, with which they will rush thru a complete overhaul of the property including seismic work. This noisy, dusty work will again be imposed on 150+ tenants, most of whom are older than 80. We want to stop them, but how?... [We are not experienced with] financing of tax-exempt low cost housing with tax-exempt loans and low cost Bank bonds. I think we are being privatized in a way that you don't even realize your pants have been pulled down.” 

Strawberry Creek Lodge was the brain-child of a group of idealists who wanted old people to live in lively, friendly circumstances. Discharging their dual responsibilities for care of the property and care of the tenants, the Board of Trustees tried earlier this year to upgrade some apartments. The results were catastrophic, including shoddy workmanship, unidentified temp workers with access to our apartments, excessive noise and dust, including asbestos, sickening of aged tenants due to noise, dust, strangers and forced relocation. 

The Board then decided to seek professional assistance. Unfortunately they have hastily chosen a plan that will again be very disruptive for the tenants and, in addition, will surrender the independence of Strawberry Creek Lodge. Its appeal is that it will raise $14 million in loans and get everything done in one year - an upgrade of the apartments, dining area, activity rooms, storage spaces, etc., plus a seismic upgrade. 

“Please help us to dodge this bullet,” writes Lodger Pondi. All this construction happening at once will literally have a deadly effect on the health of tenants, the majority of whom are over 80. It will also have a deadly effect on SCL’s non-profit status. Apparently, the Lodge is being privatized to serve as collateral on the proposed loans. This may be pushed through as early as Monday, November 19.”

Bill McKibben Brings Climate Math to Berkeley

By Gar Smith
Friday November 16, 2012 - 11:07:00 AM

Author and climate activist Bill McKibben is hitting the road on a 21-city cross-country bus tour in a last-ditch attempt to change "the terrifying math of the climate crisis." On Friday, November 9, McKibben brought his "Do the Math" crusade to Berkeley's Martin Luther King, Jr. High. McKibben's warning is stark: global coal, gas and oil corporations are on track to destroy the planet and we may have less than 15 years to stop them. The coal, gas and oil that is still buried beneath out feet must remain buried—or it will be our funeral. 

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune got the evening going on a positive note—with a celebration of November's election victories. Then he turned serious. "I grew up in the Jersey Shore community of Chadwick Beach, in a home my father built," Brune recalled. "That house is now underwater and martial law has been declared in the town where I grew up! As time goes on," Brune reflected, "I think many of us with be touched by climate change." 

Turning to the Big Picture, Brune called attention to "two tipping points." The first is the obvious chaos of extreme weather, unprecedented storms and drought that have now become the "new normal." The second "tipping point," Brune argued, was the growing grassroots response to the threat of fossil-fueled climate collapse. 

Brune noted that grassroots action successfully blocked the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney plan to build more than 200 new coal-fired power plants across the country. Beginning with one successful protest against a single plant (organized by a solitary Sierra Club staffer), the Coal Rebellion quickly spread to communities across the nation. To date, 170 of the 200 plants approved for construction have been blocked. The message from the grassroots to the government and industry was clear: "The coal rush is over!" 

Of course, that still leaves 1,274 coal boilers operating across the country, but Brune happily reported that 124 soon will be retired—to be replaced by wind turbines. Wind already is replacing coal in Texas, Washington State and the South Side of Chicago Brune noted, while Iowa and South Dakota are drawing up to 25% of their electricity from wind power and solar panels and wind turbines are producing 30% of Idaho's power. 

"And here's another good statistic," Brune added: "In September, what do you think the figures were for the introduction of new power? Coal? Zero! Gas? Zero! Solar and wind? 100 percent!" 

A Biodeisel Bus to the Rescue 

McKibben, whose biodiesel-powered bus had just traveled down the West Coast from a Road Show event in Seattle (the first leg of a 21-city cross-country tour running from November 7 to December 2), ambled onstage to wild applause and immediately expressed his delight at returning to Berkeley, which he hailed as the home of environmental legend David Brower. 

"It's been 25 years since I wrote The End of Nature," McKibben reflected. At the time, "I assumed people would read my book and things would change." But that didn't happen—at least not to the degree that McKibben had hoped. 

He came to realize the importance of the lesson Berkeley's Free Speech Movement communicated to the nation in the 1960s: Before there can be real change, there must be action, and that involves risk. 

McKibben rose to the challenge, stepping away from his laptop long enough to organize 350.org—an unprecedented global campaign that called on world leaders to reduce the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to a "survivable" 350 parts-per-million. McKibben's 350.org campaign went viral and triggered thousands of pro-Earth demonstrations in 191 countries around the planet—on a single day. 

Tackling the Tar Sands Pipeline 

Faced with the prospect of a government-ordained pipeline that would transport dirty Canadian tar-sand oil across the American Midwest to Texas refineries (which would sell the fuel overseas for private profit), McKibben led a Washington, DC protest that concluded with the largest number of nonviolent arrests the Capitol had seen in 30 years. As Van Jones (who was a member of the Obama's energy team at the time) recalled in a videoclip shown on the auditorium screen: "The Keystone XL Pipeline was considered a 'done deal' by the pols in DC." But that changed when 1,253 Americans showed they were willing to do jail time to stop it. 

Recalling his time in a DC jail cell, McKibben assured the crowd: "Being in jail isn't the end of the world. The End of the World is the end of the world!" 

(The battle over the XL pipeline is not over. McKibben has announced a new demonstration against the Keystone project, set for November 18 in Washington, DC.) 

A New Battle and Some Terrifying Math 

But now there is a new battle—one that pits the short-term profits of the Carbon Cartel against the long-term survival of the planet. This is the battle that has driven McKibben onto the road at the helm of a biodiesel bus tricked out with solar-panels and onboard wi-fi. "But you can forget the rock-star fantasies about road shows and buses," McKibben joked. "This is not how I would prefer to be spending my time. But I'm not getting tired," he insisted (while raking his hands back over his head like someone trying to shake off the tug of exhaustion). "The truth is, it's the planet that is getting tired." 

"It’s simple math," McKibben explained as a Powerpoint presentation loomed overhead on the stage behind him. "Climate scientists have determined that we can burn 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C (3.6°F) of warming—anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on Earth. 

"The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves—five times the safe amount—and they’re planning to burn it all. Unless we rise up to stop them!" 

The planet has already seen much of the Arctic's ancient ice vanish with just a 1°C rise in summertime temperatures. This raises the ominous question: "What would a 2°C rise do?" 

The world's carbon energy companies are currently producing 30 GT of CO2 per year and that is increasing at the rate of 3% a year. At this rate, the planet is on track to pass the apocalyptic 2°C increase within 15 years. (Computer models warn that, even if we were to stop producing excess CO2 today, global temperatures will continue to rise another .8 degrees Celsius, putting us harrowingly close to the apocalyptic point-of-no-return.) 

Just one week into McKibben's tour, the International Energy Agency's (IEA) annual World Energy Outlook confirmed 350.org's dire math and issued a recommendation that, in order to prevent a planetary catastrophe, 75-80 percent of Earth's fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground. 

"This is the basic, horrifying math of the planet we live on," 350.org declared. "Business as usual will bust us." Unless, that is, we get to work "blocking the Keystone EX tar sands pipeline, stopping coal ports on the Pacific Coast, ending mountaintop removal, and cracking down on rampant fracking. Easy, long-term gestures aren't enough any more." 

Unfortunately, the energy conglomerates have no incentive to stop. In 2011, the top five oil companies reported $137 billion in profits (which works out to $375 million per day). Coal, oil and gas interests expect to make $25 trillion by continuing to drill, dig and pump until every last scrap of buried fossil fuel has been plundered and burned. 

Naomi Klein, Cellphone Activism and a Family Photo 

Next up was Naomi Klein, who made an appearance courtesy of a videoclip. The author of Disaster Capitalism had a stark message: "The oil companies' business plan is to wreck the planet." The Big Dirty Energy Lobby is "a weapon against your future." We need to undertake "the hard work of Carbon Detox." 

"Remember this moment," Klein concluded. "This is when we got serious! 

Returning to the podium, McKibben noted that the Global Carbon Cartel is "the only industry that is allowed to toss its waste into the atmosphere—for free. The mark of civilization is that we clean up after ourselves," he snapped. "Unless you're the fossil fuel industry." 

It was time for a halftime break. A Road Show staffer invited everyone at the sold-out event to stand, pull out their silenced cell phones, and forward their email addresses to McKibben's 50555 account. "By the time you get back home, there will a message with information on what you can do to take this to the next level!" 

With the crowd still on its feet, McKibben called for a "family moment." Bringing a tour photographer to the stage, McKibben faced the photographer with his back to the crowd and invited everyone to pose for a "group photo"—while punching their fists in the air. "Remember," he intoned. "There is no 'backyard' anymore." 

How to Halt the Carbon Cartel's War on the Planet 

McKibbon quickly got back to the business. The final half of the "Do the Math" Tour was devoted to strategies. What can people do in the face of powerful industries and entrenched political policies that seem determined, as McKibben put it, "to run Genesis in reverse"? 

McKibben's proposed solution is Divestment. 

"We're going after the Fossil Fuel industry!" he declared, to a thunderclap of applause. "We're going to take away their money! If it's wrong to wreck the planet, then it's wrong to profit from it!" 

Divestment can be a powerful tool. In the 1960s, student activism—in the US and 21 other countries—helped end Apartheid in South Africa. McKibbon reminded the throng that, during his historic visit to the US, President Nelson Mandela made a point of stopping in Berkeley to salute the student activism that lead to the downfall of Apartheid and the dawn of democracy. 

The 350.org divestment campaign is already making changes. At the tour's first stop in Seattle, Washington, Mike McGinn became the first Big City mayor to take the municipal divestment pledge. "And just yesterday," McKibbon announced, Unity College in Maryland became the first US college to divest itself from all fossil fuel entanglements. 

350.org's goal is straightforward: "We want college and university presidents and boards (as well as religious and pension funds) to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years." 

350.org has identified 200 publicly traded companies that control most of the world's coal, oil and gas reserves. They include Anglo American, BHP Billiton, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Gazprom, Lukoil Holdings, Shanxi Coking, Shell and Peabody Coal. The top college and university endowments account for close to $400 billion in dirty energy investments. 

"Together we’ll mount an unprecedented campaign to cut off the industry’s financial and political support by divesting our schools, churches and government from fossil fuels. This won’t be easy," McKibben admitted. "We’re up against the most profitable, powerful, and dangerous industry in history. But we have our own currency: creativity, courage and, if needed, our bodies." 

McKibben characterized the fossil fuel fellowship as "a rogue industry. Outlaws. Not against the laws of the state (because they basically get to write the laws of the state) but an outlaw against the laws of physics and chemistry." 

In this case, McKibben argued, it is environmentalists who are the "deep conservatives—trying to preserve a planet something like the one we were born on. Radicals work on oil companies. If you're willing to make your fortune by altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere, then you're engaged in an act more radical than any human act I can think of." 

Challenging the Carbon Cartel 

If oil is an addiction, then the companies that profit from it are the pushers. The Carbon Cartel shares the same business ethic as the drug cartel—profits first; growth at all costs. But while a drug cartel has the means to terrorize cities and villages, ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP have the power to devastate entire countries and critical ecosystems that support the Earth itself. 

The Dirty Fuel Barons have raised the tactic of the home-invasion robbery to a planetary scale. Under the false flag of being a "good neighbor," the Carbon Cartel has invaded our lives, co-opted our economy, infiltrated our schools, occupied our media, and maneuvered to seize control of government at all levels. 

In this light, the Carbon Cartel must be seen for what it is: a criminal enterprise whose ultimate end game—through the unregulated pursuit of profit-at-all-cost—risks the collapse of human society, the deaths of millions and the onset of a new Dark Ages. The last 40 years has made it absolutely clear that the highly paid CEOs of the world's oil, coal, gas (and nuclear) enterprises are nothing less than environmental criminals. 

Whether opposition comes in the form of mass protests, divestment campaigns, or the application of criminal sanctions (Eco-RICO laws), these petrochemical plutocrats and their deadly, polluting activities must be stopped. 

If the planet is to survive, the Carbon Cartel must be reined in. The world's as-yet-untapped oil, coal and natural gas must remain in the ground. Digging up and incinerating the final dregs of Earth's fossil fuels will, without question, lead to climate collapse and mass-extinctions. 

Do the math. McKibben has, and it adds up to disaster. 


Read Bill McKibben's Rolling Stone essay, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math," at http://act.350.org/signup/reckoning/ 

For more information, go to www.GoFossilFree.org 

To start a divestment campaign, email divest@350.org 

--- --- --- 

She's Alive... Beautiful... Finite... Hurting... Worth Dying for!
Vivek Chauhan / Sanctuary Asia
World leaders, irresponsible corporatism and mindless 'consumers' are combining to destroy life on earth. This short video is dedicated to all who died fighting for the planet and those whose lives are on the line today. The principal source for the footage was Yann Arthus-Bertrand's incredible film "Home" with additional footage from Greenpeace and Timescapes. The music is by Armand Amar. 



Measure B1 Falls Short
as Vote Count Ends.
Controversial Berkeley Measures Defeated

By Rob Wrenn
Friday November 16, 2012 - 09:58:00 AM

Alameda County Measure B1. which would have increased the sales tax in the county by .5%, has narrowly missed the required two-thirds with 66.53% at the end of Thursday’s count of provisional ballots. Two hotly contested Berkeley measures, S and T, were defeated; both were behind in the Election Day count and lost further ground as the remaining absentee and provisional votes were counted. 

Had one voter per precinct voted yes instead of no, Measure B1 would have passed. And if turnout in Berkeley had equaled the record 2008 level it would likely have passed. 

Final results have not yet been certified. Uncertified final results are now posted on the county Registrar of Voters Web site

The final certified results are likely to be only slightly different from what is reported here. Final results, with the official statement of vote, which gives a breakdown of the vote by precinct, should be available by December 4th, four weeks after the election, at the latest. The Registrar has reportedly said that he wants all the work done by November 21, well ahead of that deadline. 

B1 would have provided an estimated $7.7 billion over thirty years for transit, local streets and roads, highway efficiency, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and sustainable land use and transportation linkages.  

About 48% of the funds generated would have gone for transit, including AC Transit operations, maintenance and improvements to service; specialized transit for seniors and people with disabilities; BART system modernization and expansion and regional rail enhancements. Its defeat is a setback for those hoping for reduced traffic congestion and more encouragement of alternative transportation to reduce generation of the greenhouse gases.  

Measure B1 (countywide) 

Yes: 350,899 (66.53%) 

No: 176,504 (33.47%) 


Turnout in Berkeley 

While the final numbers have not yet been certified, it’s clear that turnout in Berkeley this year fell short of the record turnout of the 2008 presidential election and was closer to 2004’s turnout. 

For the first time in a presidential election, more vote by mail ballots in Berkeley were cast than votes at the polls. More than 21,000 ballots were counted after Election Day. Many vote by mail ballots were brought to polling places on election day rather than being put in the mail. 

The ballots counted after election day did not change the results of any of Berkeley’s races. 

Here are the results beginning with some of the more controversial ballot measures. 

Measure T –West Berkeley zoning 

Measure T was briefly ahead, by 5 votes, at the end of the third day of post-election counting, raising the hopes of Measure T backers. But it finished over 500 votes behind with a lower percentage of the vote than on election day. 

Yes: 24,779 (49.49%) 

No: 25,291 (50.51%) 

Measure S: Anti-Sitting Measure 

While the campaign against Measure S was outspent 5 to 1, the measure nonetheless lost by over 2400 votes. Measure S drew more attention that any other local race. More votes were cast on S than were cast for a mayoral candidate. 

Yes: 25,523 (47.70%) 

No:27,981 (52.30%) 

Tax Measures 

There were three new tax or bond measures on the ballot. Measure M, facing no organized opposition, passed. Measures N & O, despite a vigorous and visible campaign in favor, fell short of the required two-thirds majority. Measure P, requiring only a majority vote, authorizes spending of revenues from already existing taxes, and Measure Q made some changes to the existing Utility Users tax. 

Measure M Streets and Watershed bond 

Yes: 37,988 (73.29%) 

No: 13,847 (26.71%) 

Measure N, Pools bond measure. 

Yes: 31,671 (62.37%) 

No: 19,112 (37.63%) 

Measure O, Pools parcel tax 

Yes: 30,191 (60.00%) 

No: 20,129 (40.00%) 

Measure P, Existing taxes 

Yes: 45,318 (89.08%) 

No: 5,555 (10.92%) 

Measure Q, technical change Utility tax 

Yes: 42,382 (85.36%) 

No: 7,266 (14.64%) 

Other Measures 

Measure R, Council District Redistricting 

Yes: 31,852 (65.92%) 

No: 16,464 (34.08%) 

Measure U, Sunshine Ordinance 

Yes: 10,509 (23.27%) 

No: 34,651 (76.73%) 

Measure V, FACTS Ordinance 

Yes: 17,292 (38.60%) 

No: 27,511 (61.40%) 

Berkeley Mayor 

Mayor Tom Bates won reelection easily, carrying every precinct in the city according to the election results map on the County Registrar of Voters Web site. 

Tom Bates: 28,635 (54.09%) 

Kriss Worthington: 11,507 (21.74%) 

Jacquelyn McCormick: 6,011 (11.35%) 

Bernt Wahl: 2,322 (4.39%) 

Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi: 2,248 (4.25%) 

Zachary Runningwolf: 2,016 (3.81%) 

City Council 

All incumbents won re-election, outspending their opponents in each of the three contested races. 

City Council District 2 

Darryl Moore: 3393 (58.66%) 

Denisha Delane: 1629 (28.17%) 

Adolfo Cabral: 731 (12.64%) 

City Council District 3 

Max Anderson: 3119 (60.35%) 

Dmitri Belser 2021 (39.11%) 

City Council District 5 

Laurie Capitelli 4324 (54.25%) 

Sophie Hahn 3619 (45.40%) 

City Council District 6 

Susan Wengraf 5569 (93.71%) 

Phoebe Sorgen 291 (4.90%) 

(write-in candidate) 


Berkeley School Board 

Judy Appel received the highest number of votes of any Berkeley candidate this year, topping Mayor Bates, an achievement for someone who was not an incumbent. 

She was elected along with incumbent Beatriz Leyva-Cutler. 

Judy Appel: 30,012 (42.09%) 

Beatriz Leyva-Cutler 22,267 (31.23%) 

Tracy Hollander 15,528 (21.78%) 

Norma Harrison 3,332 (4.67%) 

Berkeley Rent Board 

Three members of the Progressive Affordable Housing Slate and one member of the landlord-financed TUFF slate were elected. Nicole Drake, the one incumbent on the TUFF slate, finished sixth. Igor Tregub, an incumbent on the progressive slate, also lost. 

Judy Shelton: 19,738 (15.31%) 

Judy Hunt 17,930 (13.91%) 

Asa Dodsworth 17,551 (13.62%) 

Alejandro Soto-Vigil 16,869 (13.09%) 

Igor Tregub 16,659 (12.93%) 

Nicole Drake 15,327 (11.89%) 

Kiran Shenoy 13,204 (10.24%) 

Jay James 11,252 (8.73%) 

Note: the results reported above for all races do not include write-in votes, except for the case of Phoebe Sorgen. For that reason, votes for candidates to not add up to 100%.

Occupy Holds Small Anniversary Protest at Berkeley

By Steven Finacom
Friday November 16, 2012 - 10:24:00 AM
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom
Steven Finacom

Occupy Cal visibly resurfaced on the UC Berkeley campus on Thursday, November 15, 2012 with a small encampment intended to mark the one year anniversary of the mass rally and protest that marked the high point of the campus Occupy Movement.  

Occupiers had also rallied at the Regents meeting at UC San Francisco earlier on Thursday. On Thursday evening there were two tents on Sproul Plaza--one on the main plaza, and the other on the steps of Sproul Hall--as well as a number of banners--including a large "Welcome to the Open University" banner--signs, and protesters. The signs Thursday night were incongreuously juxtaposed with "Cal Philanthropy Day" banners and signs that had been put in place to encourage students to become alumni donors to the University. 

On Friday morning before 8:00 am, as I headed for work, there were three tents in a cluster and two protesters visible, one holding a heart shaped sign in the periodic rain. They said that the University police had given them the "usual admonishments" last night about overnight lodging on University grounds, and protesters had taken down most of the banners and signs. 

They expressed disappointment that that large numbers of people hadn't turned out but determination to continue with Occupy Cal actions during this academic year. The current tents will not remain up, but one further symbolic protest may be organized this semester, they said. Next semester, the focus will be on educating the campus community about "continued privatization" of the institution, including the agreement that brought money to the University from BP (formerly British Petroleum) to fund biofuel research. 

By 9:45, when I passed through Sproul Plaza on a brief break, the three tents and the Occupy protestors were gone. I don't know if they had been asked to leave, or had voluntarily packed up the encampment after the one year anniversary commemoration.

Cukor Family Files Lawsuit Against City of Berkeley

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Thursday November 15, 2012 - 06:17:00 PM

The wife and two sons of a 67-year-old man who was killed outside his home in the Berkeley Hills in February filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city today, alleging that it was negligent in the way it handled the situation. 

Peter Cukor, who owned a logistics consulting firm, was killed outside his home at 2 Park Gate Road at about 9 p.m. on Feb. 18. 

Daniel Jordan Dewitt, 23, who grew up in Alameda, has been charged with murder for allegedly killing Cukor with a flowerpot but a judge ruled in March that he is mentally incompetent to stand trial. 

Dewitt's attorney, Brian Bloom said today that Dewitt is being state mental hospital and he's due back on court on Jan. 25 for a progress report on his mental health. 

The suit on behalf of Andrea, Christopher and Alexander Cukor, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, says that when Peter and Andrea Cukor saw a suspicious trespasser, later identified as Dewitt, on their property shortly before 8:45 p.m. on Feb. 18, Peter Cukor called the Berkeley Police Department's emergency number to ask that an officer be sent to their home right away. 

The suit says a dispatcher told Cukor that an officer would be sent to his home "soon" but alleges that the dispatcher acted "with gross negligence and in bad faith" because the dispatcher knew officers wouldn't respond. 

R. Lewis Van Blois, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of the Cukors, said today that the Police Department had "plenty of officers" on duty that night but the department's priority was to have them monitor Occupy Wall Street protesters who were marching from Oakland to Berkeley. 

Van Blois said an officer who heard Cukor's call offered to go to Cukor's home but was told by his superiors not to respond. 

Van Blois said the Police Department has the right not to send an officer to a potential emergency situation but in Cukor's situation they should have told him they weren't sending someone immediately but if the threat continued he should call them back. 

The suit alleges that Cukor relied on the dispatcher's representation that an officer would be responding so when no officers came after several minutes he went outside to see if police were having trouble finding his house, as that had happened on a previous occasion when an officer had been dispatched there. 

The suit says, "Peter Cukor would not have gone outside if he did not believe that a trained and armed professional police officer was approaching his home and would arrive at any moment or was in the street near the home but needed assistance to find the driveway." 

When Cukor went outside with a flashlight, Dewitt confronted him and ultimately killed him, according to the suit. 

Andrea Cukor saw a flashlight coming up the driveway and believed that her husband was approaching the house with an officer but she eventually saw that the second man was the intruder and he was attacking her husband, the suit says. 

Andrea Cukor then saw and heard the blows that killed her husband, according to the suit. 

"She saw it and heard it and it was devastating," Van Blois said. 

The suit seeks unspecified damages, including for the "emotional upset, distress and anguish" it says Andrea Cukor suffered. 

City of Berkeley spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross declined to comment on the lawsuit today, saying the city doesn't comment on pending litigation. 

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan claimed at a March 8 community forum that Peter Cukor called a non-emergency police phone number at 8:47 p.m. on Feb. 18 reporting a strange man on his property. 

The police chief said Cukor's wife then made an emergency call at 9:01 p.m. to report that a suspect was attacking her husband. 

At the forum, Meehan denied allegations that police responded too slowly to the initial call, saying they had no way of knowing Dewitt would wind up attacking Cukor with a flower pot. 

However, the lawsuit says the number Peter Cukor called is the one that the Police Department tells citizens to call to report immediate threats to life and property. 

Christopher Cukor said at a news conference at Van Blois' office on April 13 that, "My father called the correct Berkeley police emergency number that is listed on their website." 

Cukor said he found Meehan's statement that his father only called a non-emergency number "very disturbing" and said, "other citizens should be concerned as well." 

Dewitt's parents have said he has suffered from mental illness for more than four years but they were never able to get him into a permanent treatment program.

Berkeley Mayoral Elections—the Backstory; Candidates Exposed (News Analysis)

By Ted Friedman
Friday November 16, 2012 - 03:37:00 PM

Written from behind the scenes, this is the backstory of the recent "battle for the soul of Berkeley"—the Berkeley election that was to set the course for "Berkeley at the crossroads." Exposés to follow.

When Kriss Worthington teamed up with Jacquelyn McCormick, and Kahlil Jacobs-Fantauzzi three months before the election, it seemed there was at least a ghost of a chance to unseat the popular incumbent mayor, who sat at the wheel of a highly tuned political machine— a Ferrari racing against soap-boxes.

But the ghost of a chance was a ghost. 

Among those who consider themselves Berkeley's true progressives (the Worthington ticket), there were high hopes that this was the year to dump Bates, whom the opposition saw as a conservative in a progressive’s clothes. 

Among anti-Bates, anti-S and anti-T forces, there was a palpable pre-election optimism that Bates would lose to Worthington, who didn't even come close. As the early results were received at coalition headquarters after the polls closed, pre-election optimism was losing. 

Street pursuits yielded to voting on Telegraph. Southside homeless, like Hate Man, Ace Backwards, two homeless voters, who voted when I did, and other street kids, like Sonia, who huddles day and night alongside Peet's—they voted too. 

According to a young woman getting out the vote at Telegraph and Dwight as the polls closed, scores of Telegraph street kids voted. You don't need to have an address to vote. I gave a rabble-rousing speech on the balcony of the Med trying to get a homeless friend of mine to vote. "You need a soap box," he said, resisting. 


But a funny thing happened on the way to an upset, as ranked-choice voting, which might have worked against Bates, didn't work against Bates because he got a majority on the first count, avoiding a ranked-choice run-off. 

Bates had exuded a breezy confidence throughout six (at least) mayoral forums. The only time Bates seemed winded was at an early forum on September 28, in which it seemed he was on hostile ground at the North Berkeley Senior Center, a Grey Panthers-sponsored forum. 

Bates ducked out early from every mayor's forum. 

From that point on, Bates emerged as a confident self-assured candidate, although admitting to me that if he "awoke Wednesday to learn I'd lost, I'd be kicking myself for supporting ranked-choice voting." 

Bates’ financing was two and three times more, respectively, than Worthington's or McCormick's. 

In the face of a highly emotional campaign, voters in Berkeley, like voters in the Bay Area, turned out in significantly smaller numbers than in 2008, when Obama-fever swept the nation and buoyed the vote. 

Zachary Running Wolf, a dark-horse candidate, thought, towards campaign's end, that McCormick would drop out and throw her support (which turned out to amount to nothing) to him, but because Bates won outright, without the necessity of a ranked-choice run-off, none of this mattered. 

A local reporter told me that Running Wolf's hopes regarding McCormick were "delusional." 

Josh Wolf, McCormick’s campaign manager, explained that she was only endorsing two of Running Wolf's proposals, not Running Wolf's candidacy. McCormick wanted to work with all the candidates, Wolf said. 

Then what about Running Wolf's medicine pouch, which she wore at the Daily Cal mayoral forum? 

"She couldn't not take the gift," he said. "That would have been rude." 

Running Wolf was beaten substantially in the also-ran category by Bernt Wahl, 

an aspiring motivational speaker who claimed to have a glacier range in Scandinavia named after his progenitors. Saying he had connections, Wahl claimed he owned the name berkeley.com. The affable Wahl beat Jacobs-Fantauzzi, the third member of the dump Bates faction. 

McCormick might have preferred Running Wolf in Fantaouzzi's spot on the Worthington ticket, but that is just hearsay, based on her campaign manager's off-the-record comments. 

It would be tempting to call Wahl a charming phony, except that although he repeatedly implied he was a U.C. Berkeley faculty member (Engineering), often alluding to his position at U.C., he, in fact, was a lecturer there, 2002-2005, according to a university spokesperson. 

The moderator at Cal's mayor-forum, repeatedly addressed Wahl as "professor." 

To say this was any more than resumé enhancement would be defamatory. 

Bullshit artist might fit. At any rate the bullshit artist/motivational speaker was the third highest vote getter after Bates, Worthington, and McCormick. 

But what do the also-ran votes mean in an election in which voter turnout was substantially down from 2008? 

Worthington has reportedly been saddened by the election results, even though he will return to a highly successful sixteen year career (with more than hundreds of successful adopted proposals to improve Berkeley), and live to challenge Bates on the city council in perpetuity, as the two former allies battle for the progressive brand. 

Jacquelyn McCormick (third-place) seemed her usual upbeat self when I spoke with her by cell when an after-election party was underway at campaign headquarters on Nov. 6. She was displeased with Worthington's early concession, and his low-mood. 

She is looking forward to a Berkeley future of cooperation among opposing factions. "This campaign shows we can work together," she has told the press. 

You could, if you listened to the mayoral forums, hear the candidates re-imagining Berkeley and fine tuning city-council meetings to give each Berkeleyan a chance to be heard. 

McCormick emerged in the campaign as the fiscal-fixer, who can esplain us the Berkeley City Budget, an inscrutable phone-book written by the Tower of Babel. 

It will be worth noting whether McCormick finds a role in, or on the periphery of city government. The city manager could do worse than appoint her to the position of public budget esplaner, a city fiscal ombudswoman. 


Respond to Ted Friedman at berkeleyreporter.com@gmail.com



What's to Become of Us? And Other Berkeley Trivia

By Becky O'Malley
Friday November 16, 2012 - 10:10:00 AM

Now that the election is behind us, it’s time once again to speculate on that eternal existential question: Why bother?

The motto behind this journalistic endeavor, which has taken a variety of forms in the past ten years, is that if people knew what was going on they’d do something about it. This has turned out to be only partially true, because some of the people some of the time want to know something about what’s up, but lots of people lots of the time would rather not know, thank you.  

In the period when we could afford to pay reporters and printers, a lot of information got thrown at the civic wall like beatniks’ spaghetti, and some of it stuck. But often it didn’t.

My own most recent involvement with figuring out what dominates the Berkeley brain has been bracketed by two official crusades to make homelessness and other unsightly forms of street life disappear, both of them spearheaded by self-styled liberal/progressive elected officials. In my garage last time I looked (I try not to do that too often) there is still a twenty-year old sign saying “Assemblyman Bates Supports Measures N & O”.

Twenty years ago N and O were the letters identifying ballot measures equivalent to this year’s Measure S: attempts to legislate misery out of sight. That pair of proposals rousted me out of the political torpor induced by twelve years working to establish a technology company and raising my kids.

I’d spent my early adult years working in the civil rights and anti-war movements, managing political campaigns, going to law school and working as a journalist, but at that point I’d been assuming that the local leftish ensemble, Berkeley Citizens Action, was looking out for my interests and the causes I cared about. It was a rude shock to discover that some of the BCA-backed city councilmembers and legislators I’d supported with my votes and small contributions over close to twenty years were backing a clearly unconstitutional ordinance aimed at restricting freedom of speech.

I joined in the effort to try to explain what was wrong with N and O, but we failed and it passed, partly because there was no longer a local newspaper which reached Berkeley voters. However the ordinance was thrown out when it reached federal court, and civil libertarians hoped a stake had been driven through its heart.

No such luck. Fast forward to Brave New Berkeley 2012, and some of the same cast of characters (including Tom Bates and Linda Maio, still officeholders after all this time) try again—minus the flagrant First Amendment violation. But this time Berkeley voters nixed their plan, and by a healthy margin too.

What’s made the difference? I’d like to hope that a resurgent local news scene helped.  

In the intervening time, we’d done our part by taking over a failed start-up, the Berkeley Daily Planet, supporting it through eight years but never managing to attract enough advertising revenue from local businesses to break even. What we did manage to do was to attract others to the Berkeley news scene, so that it finally looked like a serious market to a number of publications.

In 1992, as I remember it, there was nothing but the printed San Francisco Chronicle, and the Comical, as we called it then, had a standard template for their Berkeley stories: everything you ever wanted to know about Bezerkeley, a fantasyland where screamingly funny stuff happens all the time. There also was a weekly faux-local paper, predominantly shopping news, operated by a conservative regional chain which produced duplicate issues with different mastheads in towns throughout the East Bay hills and studiously avoided controversy of any kind.

The Daily Cal, then as now, varied widely in quality from year to year and only reached people near the UC campus. The East Bay Express was a literary standout, but not much for news.

Things are a good bit better now. The Chron does occasional serious stories about Berkeley, even if they don’t always understand what they observe. The weekly Hills chain has been subsumed into the larger, more professional Media News chain which provides factual stories about Berkeley written by decent reporters. Its variously flagged front pages, which now include the Berkeley Voice, the Contra Costa Times, the Oakland Tribune and the San Jose Mercury, reach quite a few Berkeley readers.

The Daily Cal, which has lots of diligent student reporters who manage to cover many stories, can serve a wider audience thanks to the internet. Online, Berkeleyside.com, anxious not to be considered just a blog, sometimes offers very respectable stories reported by the owner-operators, employee reporters and freelancers, as well as providing a platform for advocates and naysayers of all kinds. And lots of lively locals (Jane Stillwater, Richard Brenneman, Ted Friedman and others) are blogging away with abandon, sometimes on local topics.

During the recent election all of these sources supplied voters with what added up to an impressive variety of useful information and opinion on Measure S which probably contributed to its defeat. Readers seemed to get what it was about.

(The Express, on the other hand, three or four owners down the line from its salad days, is sadly but a thin, shrill echo of its former substantial self. It ran a single story on Measure S by a writer whose beat is usually entertainment—one-sided at best, advertiser-driven at worst.)

Here at what’s left of the Berkeley Daily Planet we keep chugging away at informing the public, as much as it’s possible to do that with an all-volunteer army. We’ve been lucky to get contributions from some fine pro bono reporters in the couple of years since we ended commercial print publication. We continue to get excellent opinion, analysis and criticism from people who could hold their own in any arena. ..

News reporting is difficult and time-consuming, and it’s not reasonable to expect volunteers to do it for very long at a stretch. News analysis, as we define it (lots of facts colored by some opinion) attracts writers who understand what’s going on from a participant’s point of view, but even they get burned out. Opinion writing depends on passion, which waxes and wanes.

Publishing all of this online, even on a weekly schedule, is a good bit of work. And I’m not getting any younger, nor are the grandkids. The time has really come to wind down.

But as I’ve been writing this, two unsolicited news stories complete with photos have come in my email, along with an offer for a timely and useful service feature from an expert in her field. The faithful columnists have sent along their weekly pieces, which have devoted fans. KPFA fans are sounding off on their upcoming election.

It seems wrong to turn such generous free-will offerings down cold. And a new incarnation of Measure S is bound to appear on the horizon sooner or later—as we all learned in Grade Six, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Nevertheless, we’re thinking hard about a way to shift gears, to lessen our time commitment while still serving as a watchdog when injustice appears on the horizon and continuing to provide a forum for the bounty our Berkeley community offers. In the next couple of months or so, as we enjoy the winter holidays, we’ll do that by not worrying so much about deadlines, posting whatever comes in when it’s convenient rather than creating a new issue every Friday.

Some friends have suggested converting to a blog format, where writers, including me, can do their own posting in a linear, sequential framework. Others think the Planet should become a journal of opinion, perhaps a quarterly, or maybe a magazine devoted to long-form articles on local or wider topics. Many long for another print publication, but that’s even more time-consuming and very expensive.

We’d like our readers, as they have many times in the past, to write in with their ideas about what the next step should be. My address is bomalley@berkeleydailyplanet.com. We’re waiting to hear what you think. After the new year, we’ll revisit this question. 

The Editor's Back Fence

New: Watch the Berkeley City Council! Tell Us What Happens!

Tuesday November 27, 2012 - 12:05:00 PM

Okay, folks, you’re up! The new-old Berkeley City Council starts its next term tonight, and watchdogs are desperately needed. While you’re not paying attention, your tax dollars are being allocated, and not always in ways you might want. You need to keep your eye on the ball. Herein, a quick primer on how you can do this. 

First, quickly scan the council agenda. Daunting, isn’t it? And it’s hard to figure out what’s going to be discussed because the language is evasive. Take this item for example: 

“Budget Referral: Annual Grant for Sunday Streets Events Refer to the 2013 budget process an ongoing budget item of $30,000 to cover City fees for twice-annual Sunday Streets events in Berkeley.” 

Remember the Sunday they closed off Shattuck and people were able to walk in the streets? Pleasant, yes, but lots of city services were needed to make it happen: police, street sweepers, etc.. Who paid for them? Usually event organizers are supposed to pay city fees to cover the cost of their events, but now Livable Berkeley, the lobbying organization which put Sunday Streets on, wants a give-back. 

According to Carolyn Jones’ story in the S.F. Chronicle (and why should we doubt her?): 

“Livable Berkeley is asking the city to waive its costs for the Oct. 14 event, plus future Sunday Streets. The event included more than just a street closure. There were yoga and rhumba classes, a climbing wall, soccer games, a music stage with amplifiers powered by bicycles, and chess games with 3-foot-high chess pieces.” 

It’s the classic political strategy described by Juvenal in ancient Rome, as recalled for us by Wikipedia: 

"Bread and Circuses (or bread and games) (from Latin: panem et circenses) is a metaphor for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the creation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace…”
Did the populace enjoy it? Well, at least some of them did, but they were most likely the same well-behaved burgers who gladly voted to continue business as usual on the city council in the election. 

But do these extravaganzas do anything to address what downtown property interests would like to identify as the real problem with their business model, disreputable street life which drives off customers? 

If bread and circuses don’t work to make downtown Berkeley into heaven itself, let’s consider the relative virtues of carrots and sticks. 

The recently defeated Measure S was a ploy by the big property owners plus some gormless restauranteurs to create another stick with which to smite the ne’er-do-wells who frequent Berkeley’s commercial areas, but the voters—at least a majority of them—weren’t fooled into thinking it would work. 

Now, how about trying a carrot or two? What might work—or at least it’s worth a try—is granting the request, also on tonight’s council agenda, by Youth Spirit Artworks for $50,000 to team up with existing homeless youth services to get and keep homeless youth off Berkeley Streets through jobs creating saleable art works, combined with referrals to services and shelter. 

Youth Spirit Artworks is a very successful program for putting unemployed and often homeless young people to work. It’s currently located on Adeline in South Berkeley, but the sponsors propose to move it to University Avenue in Central Berkeley, next door to the existing YEAH shelter which gives homeless young people a place to sleep at night for a few months of the year. 

Currently these kids have nowhere to go during the day, and many of them are the same kids excoriated for sitting on the sidewalks downtown. Much better they should be next door at Youth Spirit making art stuff to sell. 

Common sense suggests that getting them off the street and into productive employment would be a good use of city money…perhaps even better than providing yoga and rhumba classes a couple of times a year for the already housed. 

Which should the council choose? 

In days gone by, a professional reporter might have watched council meetings for you and provided a nice printed summary of what happened, but this is the brave new world of citizen media, so you’re on your own. 

This is not a quandary the Planet is going to bail you out of this time. Your assignment: Watch the darn city council meeting yourself. You could actually go to the meeting in person, but it’s also on cable TV, and even available as a streaming video right here in the very same computer you’re using to read the Planet. 

Just use the same link to the council agenda, and on that page should be another link to the council meeting, so you can watch it at home. After the meeting’s over, this link should, in a day or so, turn into a link to the pre-recorded video, so you can watch at your leisure and even fast forward to the two items in question, so you can see how the council made its decision on which one to fund. 

And if it’s not too much to ask, I might hope that somewhere out there are Planet readers who would like to volunteer to email us their very own reports about what the council decided. I’ll just repeat what I said in the first paragraph, now you’re up! 

Me, I’m going to my granddaughter’s birthday party tonight. 

No New Issue, But New Items.

By Becky O'Malley
Friday November 23, 2012 - 01:36:00 PM

Today, in keeping with our desire to relax a bit more, there's no "new issue" and no editorial. But Rob Wrenn continues to produce excellent analysis of the recent election, so there's something good to read. Regular columnists also continue to submit columns, which will be posted soon in the current issue.


Odd Bodkins: Upward Mobility (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Monday November 26, 2012 - 10:42:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Odd Bodkins: Peace in Our Time (Cartoon)

By Dan O'Neill
Friday November 16, 2012 - 12:20:00 PM


Dan O'Neill


Bounce: Family Bam (Cartoon)

By Joseph Young
Monday November 26, 2012 - 11:15:00 PM


Joseph Young


Public Comment

New: 1940s Blitzkrieg on London & 2012 Blitzkrieg on Gaza: No difference

By Jane Stillwater
Monday November 19, 2012 - 09:59:00 PM

Anyone who knows anything at all about history can't help but compare the current blitzkrieg Hell currently descending on Gaza with the living Hell that the British endured during the blitzkrieg of London during World War II.  

The only real difference between the two seems to be that, although Londoners had the option to send their children to the countryside for safekeeping during WWII, the residents of Gaza have nowhere at all to send their children to get them out of harm's way.  

But the terror inflicted by air and the brave resistance of those suffering night after night of brutal blitzkrieg bombardment? It's exactly the same.

New: A Victory! USPS will reschedule the November 20th Meeting.

Saturday November 17, 2012 - 11:14:00 AM

On November 13th, Diana Alvarado of the USPS wrote that 

“The public meeting will NO LONGER be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 20, 2012, and will be rescheduled at a future date and time following the Holiday Season.” 

The date change is a big victory and it is the result of everyone’s hard work. Special recognition goes to Ying Lee, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and her staff, and our City Manager Christine Daniel. 

Verbally, Diana Alvarado stated that if the USPS decides to sell our Allston Way post office, the USPS intends to give a preference to bidders who agree to lease back the lobby and sufficient space for USPS retail services. We need much more information on this. And of course all the broader postal service problems will remain. 

CONTACT Dave Welsh 510-847-8657 sub@sonic.net Save the Berkeley Post Office

Press Release: Opponents Declare Victory Agains Measure S

From Bob Offer-Westort
Friday November 16, 2012 - 01:19:00 PM

Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down, the campaign organized against Berkeley's proposed sitting prohibition, Measure S, has finally declared victory in the November election. As of the close of the day on Thursday, Measure S was behind by close to 2,500 votes—4.6% of the vote. Members of the campaign do not expect any more ballots to be counted, and believe that the Alameda County Registrar of Voters is now engage solely in verifying its count. 

"This is a major victory for Berkeley,” said Campaign Chair Osha Neumann. “We were up against the best-funded campaign that Berkeley has ever seen—nearly $120,000, but we won with a dedicated ground campaign, and clever outreach actions that spoke directly to voters about the absurdity of sitting laws, and about the realities of homelessness.” The largest campaign budgets in recent years have been approximately $60,000—only half of the expenditures for the Yes on S campaign. 

Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down says that while the election is over, the campaign’s work is not. Pattie Wall, Treasurer of the campaign, said, “Berkeleyans have clearly said, ‘Yes, there’s a problem, and we want solutions. But we don’t think that the same, tired, mean-spirited approach that has failed in other cities is a real solution for Berkeley.’ Mayor Bates has spoken about an interest in working with ‘creative minds’ on solutions to homelessness. Homeless people and service providers have been pushing for real solutions for quite some time. Now that the Berkeley electorate has clearly rejected criminalizing efforts like Measure S, we look forward to collaborative, less divisive work with the community at large, homeless people, small businesses, service providers, and politicians who are sincere about the hard work of consensus-building.” 

Bob Offer-Westort, Campaign Coordinator, says that while he looks forward to the work ahead, he hopes that the campaign is also an ending for a certain kind of politics. “On Election Day, it appears that members of the Downtown Berkeley Association paid homeless people recruited by Options Recovery Services to distribute Berkeley Democratic Club slatecards that deliberately misrepresented the endorsements of the Democratic Party, including claiming that the Democrats endorsed Measure S. When a campaign that was double the budget of any campaign in recent history found that it couldn’t buy the election, it tried to steal it. This is a tactic that is not only deceitful, but, by using homeless people to unwittingly promote an anti-homeless law, also cruel. I don’t think that speaks to how people in Berkeley try to solve problems, and I don’t think it speaks to the values of the small, local businesses of the Downtown Berkeley Association: I think that the leadership of the DBA, the BDC, and Options became so desperate to win, that they went with the advice of their $72,000 San Francisco political consultant, instead of their own values, those of their members, or those of this town. I hope that the results of the election prove that these tactics just don’t work in Berkeley. We’re happy that we won. We hope that future elections will involve a return to honesty and civility.”

A Sad Sad Day

By Carol Denney
Friday November 16, 2012 - 04:11:00 PM

It's a sad sad day
at the DBA
Measure S is in defeat
the anti-sitting
law is getting
pretty badly beat
they had the dough
the Mayor in tow
they thought they had it all
but at the polls
as it unfolds
the public dropped the ball

how could it be
they had the key
how did it all go wrong
which pithy quote
upset the boat
which stupid-ass folk song
while Caner sighs
Craig Becker cries
that he will not retreat
he'll win the fray
another day
while Bates still has his seat

perhaps it's true
they're oh so blue
and still have pockets deep
but with common sense
in evidence
the path is pretty steep
although they suck
we wish them luck
but better still a clue
sitting down's no crime
and for all time
we intend to keep it so

Charlie and Down Syndrome

By Dorothy Snodgrass
Thursday November 15, 2012 - 10:14:00 AM

When shopping at the large Safeway Store at College and Claremont, the first person I usually encounter is Charlie, the self-appointed welcome committee at that store. Due to his distinct facial features, Charlie clearly has Down Syndrome. This syndrome is a genetic abnormality, the most common single cause of birth defects in the United States. The syndrome occurs because of an extra copy of chromosome 21. It causes life long developmental delays that can range from moderate to severe but can be managed so that people with this syndrome live a long life -- many past the age of 50. 

Charlie could care less about this medical diagnosis. He loves his job and works like a beaver, helping customers with shopping carts and directing them to the items they're looking for. Customers return his courtesy with friendly smiles. Safeway Stores should be commended for their long practice of hiring people with disabilities. In doing so they give these people pride in their work and a sense of worth.


New: TELEGRAPH (AVE) TALES: A Good Week in Lake Southside

By Ted Friedman
Monday November 26, 2012 - 08:00:00 PM
Before the Unitarian Turkey-feed, Thanksgiving at Caffe Mediterraneum, on Telegraph Avenue
Ted Friedman
Before the Unitarian Turkey-feed, Thanksgiving at Caffe Mediterraneum, on Telegraph Avenue

It was a good week in Lake Southside, where everyone is down and out.

Craig Becker was making plans for the first Thanksgiving at the Cafe Med since he bought the business four years ago, when it was close to bankruptcy. Becker is a Berkeley big shot, who is chummy with all the city bureaucrats, as well as two police chiefs.

He is a member of the city's homeless commission, and president of the Telegraph Avenue business improvement district, but manages to find time here and there to run the Med, which has recently added Beer and Wine, which some Medheads thought triggered the death of the Med. 

Their fears turned out to be ill-founded. 

Becker enjoys being a sommelier and purveyor of spirits. He spent almost as much time converting the Med into a nightclub, as he did birthing and backing Measure "S," no-sitting, which was rejected by voters. 

His cafe hosts musicians, go-matches, and Tango classes. 

I asked him yesterday whether his high profile position on "S" had cost him business. 

"Business is up," he said. 

Becker tells me that TBID, Telegraph property owners, commissioned a poll when "S" was first put on the ballot, which among other questions polled respondents on "S." 

"We were behind in the poll, 44% to our opponents' 52%," he said. "If we had had more time we might have closed the gap," he added. 

Becker and one of his employees was mopping the filthy floor of the notorious coffee-house cheap-eats establishment, when I poked my head, then my body into the cafe. 

The floor was still damp. The floor had not been cleaned in more than a year. 

What the floor needs is to be power-cleaned by one of those gizmos the Navy uses to clean its decks, then to be sealed. Mopping just treats the symptoms mildly. "Look," said Becker's fellow mopper (swabby), pointing to accumulated stains, and a patina "there is forty years of dirt ground into the tiles," he said. 

"More like twenty-five years," Becker quibbled. 

Becker told me the floors didn't really matter, since "no one looks at the floors. They are too busy looking at all the interesting things I put on the walls." 

This seemed completely weird. "What gives you that idea? Is it some sort of marketing theory. Is it in a book, like "Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak?"  

"It doesn't need to be in a book," he said resolutely, "I just to know that myself." 

Becker and his colleague on TBID, Roland Peterson, Executive Director, used the same logic to rebut a Cal law school study, which was reported by the Daily Californian just days before the election. 

The study refuted claims favoring "S," using what seemed to be impressive data. Becker and Peterson shot back with, a we-don't-need-no-stinkin study attitude, saying, 

more or less, that they could feel the need for "S" in their bones. 

According to Rob Wrenn in the Planet, students on the Southside defeated "S." 

Becker had, as well, been put in the difficult position of quarreling with the student government in print, subjecting Daily Cal readers to his long tomes, and opposing the paper's own position on "S." Free speech lives at Cal. 

Berkeley's re-elected mayor shows up, but skips the turkey

Tom Bates, with his wife, Loni Hancock, and her daughter, poked their noses in to wish Becker, one of Bates' most persistent petitioners, a happy holiday. But he didn't join the turkey-feed. 

Through a complicated series of steps, the turkey was prepared—I didn't say cooked—by the cook for the Unitarian-Universalist Church, Kensington. 

I was married in a Unitarian church, so I wanted to taste this Unitarian turkey. 

How thankful is it to be unthankful for Thanksgiving?

If I were a food reviewer, I would say that Unitarian turkey was half-baked—bloody, but the analogy degrades. 

Perhaps I can say the mayor got something right this time when he didn't duck in for Turkey. 

Also, the Turkey appeared in an un-Turkey like manner, sort of grey, and eviscerated. 

If I didn't know better, I'd say the Unitarians' prayers for this Turkey fell on deaf ears, if God even listens to them at all. 

Just how unthankful is all this? And on Thanksgiving. What would Norman Rockwell think? 

Still there was a lot to be thankful for at the Med's first Thanksgiving, ever. There was a lot of affection among Medheads, who showed up looking grey and lonely. Becker hugged someone, but it must have been the drinks. He gave me a free pint of his best beer. 

The singer was good. 

The Unitarian turkey, and a glob of pot-luck, wound up in Camp Hate, People's Park, U.S.A., according to a representative of the church's cook. 

Ted Friedman, the Planet's 'Voice of the South side," promises to interview Camp Haters about that Unitarian turkey.

New: DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Four More Years: Into Africa

By Conn Hallinan
Saturday November 24, 2012 - 11:41:00 AM

Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy problems, most of them regional, some of them global. Dispatches From The Edge will try to outline and analyze some of the key issues for Africa.

Africa is probably the single most complex region of the world and arguably its most troubled. While the world concerns itself with the Syrian civil war and the dangers it poses for the Middle East, little notice is taken of the war in the Congo, a tragedy that has taken five million lives and next to which the crisis in Syria pales. 

Africa represents 15 percent of the world’s population, yet only 2.7 percent of its GDP, which is largely concentrated in only five of 49 sub-Saharan countries. Just two countries—South Africa and Nigeria—account for over 33 percent of the continent’s economic output. Life expectancy is 50 years, and considerably less in those countries ravaged by AIDS. Hunger and malnutrition are worse than they were a decade ago. 

At the same time, Africa is wealthy in oil, gas, iron, aluminum and rare metals. By 2015, countries in the Gulf of Guinea will provide the US with 25 percent of its energy needs, and Africa has at least 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. South Africa alone has 40 percent of the earth’s gold supply. The continent contains over one-third of the earth’s cobalt and supplies China—the world’s second largest economy—with 50 percent of that country’s copper, aluminum and iron ore. 

But history has stacked the deck against Africa. The slave trade and colonialism inflicted deep and lasting wounds on the region, wounds that continue to bleed out in today’s world. France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal sliced up the continent without the slightest regard for its past or its people. Most of the wars that have—and are—ravaging Africa today are a direct outcome of maps drawn up in European foreign offices to delineate where and what to plunder. 

But over the past decade, the world has turned upside down. Formerly the captive of the European colonial powers, China is now Africa’s largest economic partner, followed closely by India and Brazil. Consumer spending is up, and the World Bank predicts that by 2015 the number of new African consumers will match Brazil’s. 

In short, the continent is filled with vibrant economies and enormous potential that is not going unnoticed in capitols throughout the world. “The question for executives at consumer packaged goods companies is no longer whether their firms should enter the region, but where and how” says a report by the management consultant agency A.T. Kearney. How Africa negotiates its new status in the world will not only have a profound impact on its people, but on the global community as well. For investors it is the last frontier. 

The U.S. track record in Africa is a shameful one. Washington was a long-time supporter of the apartheid regime in South Africa and backed the most corrupt and reactionary leaders on the continent, including the despicable Mobutu Sese Seko in the Congo. As part its Cold War strategy, the U.S. aided and abetted civil wars in Mozambique, Angola, and Namibia. Americans have much to answer for in the region. 


If there is a single characterization of US policy vis-à-vis Africa, it is the increasingly militarization of American diplomacy on the continent. For the first time since WW II, Washington has significant military forces in Africa, overseen by a freshly minted organization, Africom. 

The US has anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 Marines and Special Forces in Djibouti, a former French colony bordering the Red Sea. It has 100 Special Forces soldiers deployed in Uganda, supposedly tracking down the Lord’s Resistance Army. It actively aided Ethiopia’s 2007 invasion of Somalia, including using its navy to shell a town in the country’s south. It is currently recruiting and training African forces to fight the extremist Islamic organization, the Shabab, in Somalia, and conducting “counter-terrorism” training in Mali, Chad, Niger, Benin, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Gabon, Zambia, Malawi, Burkina Faso, and Mauretania. 

Since much of the US military activities involves Special Forces and the CIA, it is difficult to track how widespread the involvement is. “I think it is far larger than anyone imagines,” says John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org

As a whole, US military adventures in Africa have turned out badly. The Ethiopian invasion overthrew the moderate Islamic Courts Union, elevating the Shabab from a minor player to a major headache. NATO’s war on Libya—Africom’s coming out party—is directly responsible for the current crisis in Mali, where Local Tuaregs and Islamic groups have seized the northern part of the country, armed with the plundered weapons’ caches of Muammar el-Qaddafi. Africom’s support of Uganda’s attack on the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo resulted in the death of thousands of civilians. 

While the Obama administration has put soldiers and weapons into Africa, it has largely dropped the ball on reducing poverty. In spite of the UN’s Millennium Development plan adopted in 2000, sub-Saharan Africa will not reach the program’s goals for reducing poverty and hunger, and improving child and maternal healthcare. Rather than increasing aid, as the plan requires, the US has either cut aid or used debt relief as a way of fulfilling its obligations. 

At the same time, Washington has increased military aid, including arms sales. One thing Africa does not need is any more guns and soldiers. 

There are a number of initiatives that the Obama administration could take that would make a material difference in the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans. 

First, it could fulfill the UN’s Millennium goals by increasing its aid to 0.7 percent of its GDP, and not using debt forgiveness as part of that formula. Canceling debt is a very good idea, and allows countries to re-deploy the money they would use for debt payment to improve health and infrastructure, but as part of an overall aid package it is mixing apples and oranges. 

Second, it must de-militarize its diplomacy in the region. Indeed, as Somalia and Libya illustrate, military solutions many times make bad situations worse. Behind the rubric of the “war on terror,” the US is training soldiers throughout the continent. History shows, however, that those soldiers are just as likely to overthrow their civilian governments as they are to battle “terrorists.” Amadou Sanogo, the captain who overthrew the Mali government this past March and initiated the current crisis, was trained in the U.S. 

There is also the problem of who are the” terrorists.” Virtually all of the groups so designated are focused on local issues. Nigeria’s Boko Haram is certainly a lethal organization, but it is the brutality of the Nigerian Army and police that fuel its rage, not al-Qaeda. The continent’s bug-a-boo, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Meghreb, is small and scattered, and represents more a point of view than an organization. Getting involved in chasing “terrorists” in Africa could end up pitting the US against local insurgents in the Niger Delta, Berbers in the Western Sahara, and Tuaregs in Niger and Mali. 

What Africa needs is aid and trade directed at creating infrastructure and jobs. Selling oil, cobalt, and gold brings in money, but not permanent jobs. That requires creating a consumption economy with an export dimension. But the US’s adherence to “free trade” torpedoes countries from constructing such modern economies. 

Africans cannot currently compete with the huge—and many times subsidized industries—of the First World. Nor can they build up an agricultural infrastructure when their local farmers cannot match the subsidized prices of American corn and wheat. Because of those subsidies, US wheat sells for 40 percent below production cost, and corn for 20 percent below. In short, African needs to “protect” their industries—much as the US did in its early industrial stage—until they can establish themselves. This was the successful formula followed by Japan and South Korea. 

The Carnegie Endowment and the European Commission found that “free trade” would end up destroying small scale agriculture in Africa, much as it did for corn farmers in Mexico. Since 50 percent of Africa’s GNP is in agriculture, the impact would be disastrous, driving small farmers off the land and into overcrowded cities where social services are already inadequate. 

The Obama administration should also not make Africa a battleground in its competition with China. Last year US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described China’s trading practices with Africa as a “new colonialism,” a sentiment that is not widely shared on the continent. A Pew Research Center study found that Africans were consistently more positive about China’s involvement in the region than they were about the US’s. 

Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, recently praised the continent’s “relationship with China,” but also said that the “current trade pattern” is unsustainable because it was not building up Africa’s industrial base. China recently pledged $20 billion in aid for infrastructure and agriculture. 

One disturbing development is a “land rush” by countries ranging from the US to Saudi Arabia to acquire agricultural land in Africa. With climate change and population growth, food, as Der Spiegel puts it, “is the new oil.” Land is plentiful in Africa, and at about one-tenth the cost in the US. Most production by foreign investors would be on an industrial scale, with its consequent depletion of the soil and degradation of the environment from pesticides and fertilizers. The Obama administration should adopt the successful “contract farming” model, where investors supply capital and technology to small farmers, who keep ownership of their land and are guaranteed a set price for their products. This would not only elevate the efficiency of agriculture, it would provide employment for local people. 

The Obama administration should also strengthen, not undermine, regional organizations. The African Union tried to find a peaceful resolution to the Libyan crisis because its members were worried that a war would spill over and destabilize countries surrounding the Sahara. The Obama administration and NATO pointedly ignored the AU’s efforts, and the organization’s predictions have proved prescient. 

Lastly, the Obama administration should join with India and Brazil and lobby for permanent membership for an African country—either South Africa or Nigeria, or both— in the UN Security Council. India and Brazil should also be given permanent seats. Currently the permanent members of the Security Council are the victors of WW II: the US, Russia, China, France and Great Britain. 

In 1619, a Dutch ship dropped anchor in Virginia and exchanged its cargo of Africans for food, thus initiating a trade that would rip the heart out of a continent. No one really knows how many Africans were forcibly transported to the New World, but it was certainly in the 10s of millions. To this day Africa mirrors the horror of the slave trade and the brutal colonial exploitation that followed in its wake. It is time to make amends. 


Read Conn Hallinan at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog’wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com 

DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE: Middle East: The Next Four Years

By Conn Hallinan
Saturday November 24, 2012 - 08:31:00 AM

Over the next four years the U.S. will face a number of foreign policy issues, most of them regional, some of them global. Dispatches From The Edge will try to outline and analyze them, starting with the Middle East. 


The most immediate problem in the region is the on-going civil war in Syria, a conflict with local and international ramifications. The war—which the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad ignited by its crushing of pro-democracy protests— has drawn in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Iran, and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The U.S., France and Great Britain are also heavily involved in the effort to overthrow the Assad government. 

The war has killed more than 30,000 people and generated several hundred thousand refugees, who have flooded into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. It has also badly damaged relations between Turkey and Iran. The former supports the insurrection, the latter supports the Assad regime. Pitting Shite Iran (and to a certain extent, Shite Iraq and the Shite-based Hezbollah in Lebanon) against the largely Sunni Muslim opposition has sharpened sectarian tensions throughout the region. 

The war itself appears to be a stalemate. So far, the regime’s army remains loyal, but seems unable to defeat the insurrection. The opposition, however, is deeply splintered and ranges from democratic nationalists to extremist jihadist groups. The US and Britain are trying to weld this potpourri into a coherent political opposition, but so far the attempts have floundered on a multiplicity of different and conflicting agendas by the opponents of the Assad regime. 

Efforts by the United Nations (UN) to find a peaceful solution have been consistently torpedoed, because the opposition and its allies insist on regime change. The goal of overthrowing the government makes this a fight to the death and leaves little room for political maneuvering. A recent ceasefire failed, in part, because jihadist groups supported by Qatar and Saudi Arabia refused to abide by it and set off several car bombs in the capital. The Sunni extremism of these groups is whipping up sectarian divisions among the various sects of Islam. 

There are a number of things the Obama administration could do to alleviate the horrors of the current civil war. 

First, it should drop the demand for regime change, although this does not necessarily mean that President Assad will remain in power. What must be avoided is the kind of regime change that the war in Libya ushered in. Libya has essentially become a failed state, and the spinoff from that war is wreaking havoc in countries that border the Sahara, Mali being a case in point. In the end, Assad may go, but to dismantle the Baathist government is to invite the kind of sectarian and political chaos that the dissolution of the Baathist regime in Iraq produced. 

Second, if the US and its allies are enforcing an arms embargo against Assad’s government, they must insist on the same kind of embargo on arms sent to the rebels by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. 

Third, China and Russia should be asked to negotiate a ceasefire and organize a conference aimed at producing a political settlement and transition government. China recently proposed a four-point peace plan that could serve as a starting point for talks. A recent Assad government controlled newspaper, Al Thawra, suggested the Damascus regime would be open to such negotiations. A key aspect to such talks would be a guarantee that no outside power would undermine them. 


The conflict that will not speak its name—or at least that is the way the current impasse between Israel and the Palestinians was treated during the 2012 US elections. But as U.S. Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, the military formation responsible for the Middle East, said last spring, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a “preeminent flame that keeps the pot boiling in the Middle East, particularly as the Arab Awakening causes Arab governments to be more responsive to the sentiments of their populations” that support the Palestinians. 

Rather than moving toward a solution, however, the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently announced yet another round of settlement building. There are approximately 500,000 Jewish settlers currently on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, although all such settlements are a violation of international law. While Netanyahu says he wants negotiations, he continues to build settlements, which is like negotiating over how to divide a pizza while one of the parties is eating it. 

Proposals to annex the West Bank, once the program of far-right settlers, have gone mainstream. A conference this past July in the West Bank city of Hebron drew more than 500 Israelis who reject the idea of a Palestinian state. The gathering included a number of important Likud Party officials and members of the Knesset. Likud is Netanyahu’s party and currently leads the Israeli government. 

“Friends, everybody here today knows that there is a solution—applying sovereignty [over the West Bank]. One state for the Jewish people with an Arab minority,” Likud Knesset member Tzipi Hotovely told the audience. 

Conference organizer Yehudit Katsover put the matter bluntly “We’re all here to say one thing: the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Why? Because!” 

A major argument against absorbing the West Bank is that it would dilute the Jewish character of Israel and threaten the country’s democratic institutions. “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish or non-democratic,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak argues. “If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.” 

But right-wing conference goers dismissed that argument because they reject that there is a demographic threat from the Palestinians. According to The Times of Israel, former ambassador to the US, Yoram Ettinger, told the crowd that estimates of the Palestinian population are based on “Palestinian incompetence or lying” and that there are actually a million fewer than the official population count. 

Legal expert Yitzhak Bam said he expected there would be no fallout from the Americans if Israel unilaterally annexed the West Bank, since Washington did not protest the 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria. Both areas were conquered in the 1967 War. 

The Times reporter Raphael Ahern writes that that the conference reflects “The annexationists are growing in confidence, demanding in outspoken fashion what they always dreamed of but have never dared to say quite so publically.” 

The expanding settlements are rapidly making the possibility of a viable two-state solution impossible. Eventually there will be no pizza left to divide. 

The Obama administration has dropped the ball on this issue and needs to re-engage, lest the “pot” boil over. 

First, the Tel Aviv government needs to be told that all settlement expansion must cease, and that failure to do so will result in a suspension of aid. At about $3.4 billion a year, Israel is the US’s number one foreign aid recipient. 

Second, the US must stop blocking efforts by the Palestinians for UN recognition. 

Third, negotiations must cover not only the West Bank and Gaza, but also the status of East Jerusalem. The latter is the engine of the Palestinian economy, and without it a Palestinian state would not be viable. 


The immediate danger of a war with Iran appears to have slightly receded, although the Israelis are always a bit of a wild card. First, the Obama administration explicitly rejected Netanyahu’s “red line” that would trigger an attack on Teheran. The Israeli prime minister argues that Iran must not be allowed to achieve the “capacity” to produce nuclear weapons, a formulation that would greatly lower the threshold for an assault. Second, there are persistent rumors that the US and Iran are exploring one-on-one talks, and it appears that some forces within Iran that support talks—specifically former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani— are in the ascendency. 

Netanyahu continues to threaten war, but virtually his entire military and intelligence apparatus is opposed to a unilateral strike. Israeli intelligence is not convinced that Iran is building a bomb, and the Israeli military doesn’t think it has the forces or weapons to do the job of knocking out Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Polls also indicate overwhelming opposition among the Israeli public for a unilateral attack. This doesn’t mean Netanyahu won’t attack Iran, just that the danger does not seem immediate. If Israel should choose to launch a war, the Obama administration should make it clear that Tel Aviv is on its own. 

US intelligence and the Pentagon are pretty much on the same page as the Israelis regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Even with its powerful military, US generals are not convinced that an attack would accomplish much more than delaying Iran’s program by from three to five years. At least at this point, the Pentagon would rather talk than fight. “We are under the impression that the Iranian regime is a rational actor,” says Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Polls also indicate that nearly 70 percent of the American public favors negotiations over war. 

In short, a lot of ducks are now in a row to cut a deal. 

However, the US cannot make uranium enhancement a red line. Iran has the right to enhance nuclear fuel under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and as long as inspectors are in place—as they currently are—it is virtually impossible to create bomb-level fuel in secret. 

Not only has intelligence failed to show that Iran is creating a nuclear weapons program, the country’s leader has explicitly rejected such a step. “The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons,” says the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, calling nuclear weapons “a great and unforgivable sin.” The Iranian government has also indicated that it will take part in a UN-sponsored conference in Helsinki to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

The Obama administration should endorse this effort to abolish nuclear weapons in the Middle East, although this will force it to confront the only nuclear power in the Middle East, Israel. Israel is not a NPT signatory and is thought to have some 200 nuclear weapons. Such a monopoly cannot long endure. The argument that Israel needs nuclear weapons because it is so outnumbered in the region is nonsense. Israel has by far the strongest military in the Middle East and powerful protectors in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). While Egypt and Syria did attack Israel in 1973, it was to recover territories seized by Tel Aviv in the 1967 war, not an attempt to destroy the country. And that was almost 40 years ago. Since then Israel has invaded Lebanon twice and Gaza once. Countries in the region fear Israel, not visa-a-versa. 

While the White House has recently eased restrictions on the sale of critical medicines to Iran, the sanctions are taking a terrible toll on the economy and the average Iranian. So far, the US has not explicitly said it will remove the sanctions if talks are showing real progress. Since no one likes negotiating with a gun to the head—in this regard Iranians are no different than Americans—there should be some good faith easing of some of the more onerous restrictions, like those on international banking and oil sales. 

Lastly, the option of war needs to be taken off the table. Threatening to bomb people in order to get them not to produce nuclear weapons will almost certainly spur Iran (and other countries) to do exactly the opposite. A war with Iran would also be illegal. The British attorney general recently informed the Parliament that an attack on Iran would violate international law, because Iran does not pose a “clear and present danger,” and recommended that the US not be allowed to use the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to launch such an attack. 

The Gulf 

Because US relies on the energy resources of the Persian Gulf countries, as well as strategic basing rights, it is unlikely that the Obama administration will challenge the foreign and domestic policies of its allies in the region. But then Washington should not pretend that its policies there have anything to do with promoting democracy. 

The countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are monarchies that not only suppress dissent but also systematically oppress women and minorities and, in the case of Bahrain, the Shite majority. The extreme jihadist organizations that the countries of the Gulf fund and arm are destabilizing governments across the region and throughout Central Asia. Washington may bemoan extremism in Pakistan, but its Gulf allies can claim the lion’s share of the credit for nurturing the groups responsible for that extremism. 

The Gulf Council is not interested in promoting democracy—indeed, political pluralism is one of its greatest enemies, nor does it have much interest in the modern world, aside from fancy cars and personal jet planes. This past summer Saudi Arabia executed a man for possessing “books and talismans from which he learned to harm God’s worshippers,” and last year beheaded a man and a woman for witchcraft. 

Lastly, the Obama administration should repudiate the 1979 Carter Doctrine that allows the US to use military force to guarantee access to energy resources in the Middle East. That kind of thinking went out with 19th century gunboats and hangs like the Damocles Sword over any country in the region that might decide to carve out an independent policy on politics and energy. 

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries.wordpress.com

THE PUBLIC EYE: Reappraising Obama

By Bob Burnett
Saturday November 24, 2012 - 08:34:00 AM

In the last one hundred years, only four Democrats have twice been elected President: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Obama’s reelection was doubly remarkable considering the sluggish economy, the $2 billion plus spent to defeat him, and the fact that at the beginning of his campaign many Democrats were unenthusiastic. Obviously voters reappraised the President.  

At the beginning of 2012, many Democratic stalwarts were less than thrilled by the prospect of a second Obama term. While their reasons varied, there was a common theme, “Obama hasn’t kept his promises to my constituency.” There were lingering complaints that 2009’s stimulus package should have been bigger and a communal whine, “Obama should have listened to us.” Nonetheless, by the end of the Democratic convention on September 6th most Dems had come around. They gave money, made phone calls, and traveled to swing states. As a result Obama got a higher percentage of Democratic votes than he did in 2008. 

In part, this transformation occurred because from January to September Dems scrutinized Mitt Romney and were horrified by what they saw. In January some muttered, “There’s no difference between Obama and Romney,” but nine months later none believed that. While many Democrats were not thrilled by Obama’s first-term performance, they saw him as preferable to Romney on a wide range of issues. 

Six factors affected voters’ reappraisal of the President: 

1. He’s a politician. Before the 2008 election, many Dems saw Obama as a Washington outsider, someone who could rise above politics and “bring us all together.” Four years later, Democrats acknowledged he is a politician. Barack’s not pure; he’s not the second coming. But he is a bright guy, a terrific organizer, a powerful speaker, and most important, he’s on our side. 

2. He accomplished a lot in his first term. Because Romney promised, “If elected, I will repeal Obamacare on day one,” Democrats wondered what other Obama accomplishments Romney would repeal and uncovered a long list: Wall Street reform, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, winding down the war in Afghanistan, support for reproductive health, protecting the environment, and on and on. Dems realized the President had accomplished more than they thought.  

3. He became a populist. In his State-of-the-Union address Obama said, “The defining issue of our time is how to keep that [economic] promise alive… We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” Obama kept hammering at this theme and it resonated with voters. Exit polls indicated that on the attribute, “a candidate who cares about people like me,” the President overwhelmed Romney.  

4. He’s a pragmatist. In 2009, Obama got a bad rap from some Dems because they believed he did not fight hard enough for the fiscal stimulus and affordable healthcare. In March of 2011, veteran Washington columnist, Elizabeth Drew, described Obama as “a somewhat left-of-center pragmatist, and a man who has avoided fixed positions for most of his life. Even his health care proposal—denounced by the right as a ‘government takeover’ and ‘socialism’—was essentially moderate or centrist. When he cut a deal on the tax bill, announced on December 7, he pragmatically concluded that he did not have the votes to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, and in exchange for giving in on that he got significant concessions from the Republicans, such as a fairly lengthy extension of unemployment insurance and the cut in payroll taxes. Making this deal also left him time to achieve other things—ratification of the START treaty, the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell.”[Emphasis added.] 

5. He’s an inconsistent communicator. Obama’s poor performance in the first Presidential debate made public what many Dems had been whispering for four years, “the Great Communicator doesn’t always communicate effectively.” The President has a history of making a terrific speech, kicking off an initiative, and then disappearing. Fortunately, that didn’t happen after the October 3rd debate; Obama realized that he had to get it together or Romney was going to kick his ass and the President rose to the challenge. 

6. He’s biracial. Much has been made of Obama being America’s first black President, but he’s our first biracial president – his mother was European-American and his father African. To be precise, Obama is our first President who is not a member of the “non-Hispanic white” category. That’s particularly significant because non-Hispanic whites are now a minority of US births and, in thirty years they will be a minority of the electorate. Republicans see this coming and it’s driving them crazy.  

President Barack Obama isn’t perfect but his election moves America forward. He’s a harbinger of a time when white men will no longer dominate American politics. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net

ECLECTIC RANT: Time to Re-Examine Proposition 13

By Ralph Stone
Friday November 16, 2012 - 03:49:00 PM

In his November 11 "Willie's World" column in the San Francisco Chronicle (www.sfgate.com/default/article/Next-up-for-Jerry-Brown-Prop-13-4026611.php), Willie Brown suggested that Jerry Brown's next "bold move be to enlist Warren Buffett for a joint effort to reform Proposition 13." 

No matter what you think of Willie Brown, he is politically savvy. The democrats now have a supermajority in the California Senate and when all the votes are counted, will likely have a supermajority in the Assembly. Times have changed since the passage of Proposition 13 and now may be the time for the democrats to re-examine Proposition 13. 

Proposition 13 added Article XIII to the California state Constitution . It provides, among other things, that taxes on real property are limited to 1 percent of 1975 market value, no new property taxes may be imposed, and market value may be increased from its 1975 value up to 2 percent a year or when property is sold or is newly constructed. 

Excluded from reassessment are transfers between spouses, between parents and children, and in some circumstances from grandparents to grandchildren. Proposition 58, passed in 1986, lets parents give, sell or bequeath their primary residence plus as much as $1 million worth of other property to their children without a reassessment. Proposition 193, passed in 1996, allows transfers from grandparents to grandchildren without reassessment, but only if the parents of the grandchildren are deceased at the time of the transfer. In 2007, the State Board of Equalization extended to domestic partners the same property tax relief as married couples. In 2007, Proposition 39 lowered Proposition 13's two-thirds requirement to 55 percent for local school bonds. 

Proposition 13 unfairly treats commercial property like residential property. In San Francisco , for example, prior to Proposition 13, commercial property owners paid 59 percent of property tax revenues and residential property owners paid 41 percent. In 2008, commercial property owners paid just 43 percent of property taxes, while residential property owners paid 57 percent. 

In Los Angeles County, residential property owners paid slightly more than half the burden in 1975 and now they now pay nearly 70 percent. 

In Contra Costa County, it was a ratio of 48 percent to 52 percent in 1970 and the ratio is now 73 percent to 27 percent. 

In Santa Clara County, the proportions were roughly even in 1978, but the residential property owners now pay about 65 percent of property taxes while commercial property pays 35 percent. 

I believe a majority would approve reversing current ratios. 

Why have these ratios changed so dramatically? Because property taxes are assessed when there is a change of ownership and commercial property changes ownership a lot less than residential property. And many commercial properties are held by holding companies and oftentimes these properties are sold or merged but ownership remains with the holding company. Therefore, no property tax is due. 

The major immediate effect of Proposition 13 was to excise $7 billion from local governments, or almost a quarter of their total anticipated 1978-79 revenue. Local governments lost the right to determine property tax rates by Proposition 13's 1 percent limitation and had to depend on the state legislature to determine both their share of remaining property taxes and state aid. Local governments were forced to add or expand taxes and fees such as development fees on new residential and commercial construction, hotel taxes, utility taxes, and taxes on the transfer of property, sales tax increases, and business license taxes. However, the drastic downturn in the economy made these new taxes and fees less palatable to the public. Do these new or increased fees make for better public policy today than if the same amount of money could be raised from property taxes? 

According to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association , Proposition 13 has saved California taxpayers $528 billion so far. But this taxpayer savings comes at a steep price for many see a direct link between the inherent inequities in the Proposition 13 tax scheme and state and local budget problems. The obvious direct results have been to cut public services, raise other taxes, and lose credit rating. In 1978 we had a surplus in Sacramento. Since then we have raised business taxes, income taxes, sales taxes and gas taxes, but seem to go broke every June. For example, California public schools in the 1950s and 1960s were ranked nationally as among the best, but have now fallen to 46th

If there was no Proposition 13, would we have needed a Proposition 30 in the past election to save our schools from planned spending reductions? 

There are many factors favoring a re-examination of Proposition 13. In 1978, there were runaway housing prices, large increases in property taxes, and an unfair burden on the older generation. Today, we see a slow recovery from housing prices and construction; slow, steady tax increases that negate benefits of Proposition 13; higher profits for the older generation coupled with burdens on the younger generation; population growth; and the accumulated deficit of years of underfunded public services. 

In addition, median home prices have fallen. Thus, the gain in assessed value and property taxes from new construction has plummeted. Some construction gains are expected in the coming years, but construction levels are unlikely to return to peak levels any time soon. The gain in assessed value and property taxes from changes in ownership of residential property have plummeted. A large share of the assessed value in most California counties is in properties with a recent base year valuation, including many bought at peak prices. As a result, we will see lower gains from change in ownership, for many years to come. There have been a number of ideas for changing Proposition 13. One, of course, is to repeal it. Another idea is to tax commercial property periodically on its resale value, not when there is a change in ownership. Another idea that has been floating around for years is the so-called "split roll" property tax, which applies higher tax rates to commercial property than for residential property. Another approach is to assess homeowner property at a lower rate than commercial property. Or if the objective is to provide tax relief to low- and middle-income property owners, then give a homestead exemption to these taxpayers only. 

Perhaps the time is right to at least begin a serious re-examination of Proposition 13.

THE PUBLIC EYE: Election 2012: Winners and Losers

By Bob Burnett
Friday November 16, 2012 - 01:32:00 PM

Despite months of uncertainty, on October 6th Barack Obama decisively defeated Mitt Romney. There were ten other notable winners and losers in the 2012 Presidential election. 

Leading the parade of winners are Senate Democrats: There were 33 Senate seats up for election and Republicans only had to defend 10 of them. GOP leaders were confident they would win enough seats to ensure a 50 plus vote majority. Instead they lost two seats (Massachusetts and Maine). Kudos to Senator Patty Murray who led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. 

Women: 2012 turned out to the year of the woman. 55 percent of all females voted for Obama, and an astonishing 68 percent of single women preferred the President. Five women were elected to the Senate (Baldwin, Fischer, Heitkamp, Hirono, and Warren) bringing the total number to 20. The number of women in the House of Representatives increased from 76 to 82. New Hampshire became the first state to have a female governor (Hassan) and an all female congressional delegation (Senators Ayotte and Shaheen and Representatives Kuster and Shea-Porter). In addition several high profile Republican male lawmakers lost because of their misogynistic comments: notably Akin, Mourdock, and Walsh. 

Hispanics: Obama garnered 71 percent of the Latino vote, a fact that probably explains why the President carried all the swing states except for North Carolina. Hispanic participation increased to ten percent of the electorate. 31 Latinos were elected to Congress: Senators Cruz, Menendez, and Rubio and 28 Representatives. As a result, Republicans as well as Democrats favor immigration reform. 

GLBTs: According to recent estimates roughly 9 million Americans (3.8 percent) identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. 76 percent of the GLBT population voted for Obama. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay candidate elected to the Senate and GLBT candidates won around the nation including Mark Takano in California and Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona. Gay marriage was legalized in Maine, Maryland, and Washington and Minnesota turned down a constitutional amendment denying Gay marriage. 

California: Obama won 59 percent of the Golden State’s vote and Democrats picked up four house seats. (Bera, Brownley, Peters, and Ruiz). (Observers credited this accomplishment to California’s even-handed redistricting.) In addition, California passed two measures to increases taxes (Proposition 30 and 39. And, in the newly redistricted state assembly and senate, Democrats won a super-majority. 

Leading the legion of losers were Karl Rove and his Super PACs (American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies). Rove raised $300-400 million but had little to show for this; a 5.7 percent rate of return . Donald Trump tweeted: “Congrats to @KarlRove on blowing $400 million this cycle. Every race @CrossroadsGPS ran ads in, the Republicans lost. What a waste of money.” 

The Romney Campaign Team has to shoulder much of the blame for Mitt’s loss. Romney was the overwhelming favorite of the Republican establishment but he struggled to win the nomination. Then his campaign let Obama define him as a “vulture capitalist.” Romney’s team mismanaged time at the Republican convention and let Clint Eastwood steal the show. Romney won the first presidential debate by blaming Obama for the struggling economy and then Mitt wandered off message. His campaign invested millions in Project ORCA a high-tech GOTV tool that failed on election day. And on and on. 

Fox News: was the scene of an epic election-night Karl Rove meltdown. After Labor Day it provided haven for wildly inaccurate predictions of a Romney victory. Meanwhile it steadily lost ground to MSNBC

Arizona: Even Florida, with its long lines, even longer ballot, and obstructionist Republican Governor, paled in comparison with Arizona where fear of Hispanic voters caused draconian voter suppression. At this writing, hundreds of thousands of ballots remain uncounted – most of these were cast by Latinos. 

Crotchety White Men: In retrospect, the Romney campaign strategy was made clear when he invited Clint Eastwood to speak at the Republican convention; it was a blatant appeal to crotchety white men. Because of this, and sub rosa racism, Romney won 59 percent of the overall white vote and 62 percent of white men. Romney-Ryan doubled down on the 2008 McCain-Palin strategy. 

On September 17th a videotape was uncovered where Romney told donors, “47 percent of the people…who are victims…my job is not to worry about those people.” But Romney didn’t stop there. In a November 14 call to campaign donors, Romney “attributed his rival’s victory to ‘the gifts’ the administration had given to blacks, Hispanics and young voters during Obama’s first term.” 

Earth to Mitt: You lost because you are a crotchety white man! Your time has passed! White men are a rapidly diminishing percentage of the electorate. Get used to it! 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at bburnett@sonic.net 

SENIOR POWER: Long Life Learning

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday November 16, 2012 - 11:40:00 AM

Sue Kaufman’s 1967 novel, Diary of a Mad Housewife, was about a woman struggling to find some sense of her own identity within the confines of her role, her lifestyle and her husband’s unreasonable demands. Tina Balser begins an affair with George Prager, a dashing, successful and blatantly sadistic writer. He torments her in much the same manner as her husband plus being unfaithful. She plays with the idea of resisting her psychiatrist-approved feminine role, but decides that for her, there are no other options. She goes back to her husband and begins group therapy. Even many sixties-decade readers were dissatisfied with the story’s ending. 

The movie version was scripted by Eleanor Perry, one of the few women screenwriters in the industry at the time. The hero[ine] could bring herself to have an affair but not to leave her whining boor of a husband… “How’s about a little ole roll in da hay?” Or, propped up in bed, he wheezes: “Tee-een! Where’s my lemonade!” 

Carrie Snodgress was Oscar-nominated for her performance as Tina Balser. (She died in 2004 while hospitalized waiting for a liver transplant). Richard Benjamin played her social-climbing spouse. Frank Langella, then forty-two, was stunning as sexy sexist George Prager. It was as if the part were made for him. 

Flash forward to Langella’s 2012 memoir, Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them. The New York Times Book Reviewer observed that his book “celebrated sluttiness as a worthy—even noble—way of life." It’s about sixty-six notable dead (and thus, it would seem, safe) people. Langella’s droppings frequently include “with a woman;” I gave up counting the unidentified women with whom he cohabited or that he referred to companion, wife or his girl. Carrie Snodgress, although deceased, escaped notice. (Wikipedia lists Whoopi Goldberg as his 1996-2001 partner; she dedicated her 1997 book “To Frank…”.) 

Based on Brian Morton’s novel, Starting Out in the Evening is a 2007 filmic psychological drama. Langella (now sixty-nine) plays a once celebrated writer. Forgotten by everyone important to him -- readers, colleagues, critics --, he struggles to complete his final novel, while his forty-year old daughter brings the groceries and struggles with her own problems, to which he seems indifferent. 

A Brown University student wants to interview him for her graduate thesis, which she anticipates will reintroduce the public to his work. He finally agrees to meetings and slowly begins to open up to her as he reluctantly recalls his past. No doubt about it, as an actor, Langella excels. He has won a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play for his performance as Richard Nixon in the play Frost/Nixon (2006), and later received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role for the same role in the film, Frost/Nixon (2008). 

Starting Out in the Evening was shot on location in Manhattan’s upper west side in eighteen days. It is in the public library DVDs collection. 

Robots have potential to help older adults with daily activities (like bringing the groceries…) that may become more challenging with age. But are people willing to use and accept the new technology? A Georgia Institute of Technology study says yes, unless personal care or social activities are involved. After showing adults (ages 65 - 93) a video of a robot’s capabilities, researchers interviewed them about their willingness to accept assistance with 48 common household tasks. Participants generally preferred robotic help over human help for such chores as cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, and taking out trash. But for help getting dressed, eating and bathing, these elders preferred human assistance over robotic. 

In Starting Out in the Evening, Frank Langella played an aging man. In 2012’s Robot & Frank he plays an aged man. The Los Angeles Times calls it “a futuristic comedy, ninety minutes of a buddy caper .” The retired, ex-convict, cat-burglar’s kids are concerned that he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank's son hires a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health. Initially wary of the robot's presence in his life, Frank warms up to his new companion and uses him to commit a heist in order to win the affection of the local librarian, played by sixty-six years young Susan Sarandon

Kings Point opened in August. Remember the grandmother, played by Shirley MacLaine, and the retirement community portrayed in 2005’s In Her Shoes? It’s not like that. Seventy-eight year old MacLaine is currently appearing in TV’s Downton Abbey, by the way. 

Documentary film director Sari Gilman saw her grandparents' Florida retirement community as a hierarchy built around residents' health and relationship status 

In 1978 her grandparents moved from New York City to Kings Point, Florida. Even after her grandfather passed, Grandma lived a full, independent life, surrounded by people with similar backgrounds, enjoying occasional visits from children and grandchildren. 

If you stay active and enjoy the warm weather, growing old doesn't have to be that bad, Gilman initially concluded. But her grandmother and neighbors began to slow down. Friends, spouses and activity partners died. Social interaction, once based on the various ways everyone "kept busy," shifted to common complaints of body aches, limited mobility and serious disease. Loneliness became endemic. 

Amazingly, few of these people had ever really considered what would happen if they could no longer live independently. Most had not discussed their wishes and plans with family members. Gilman discovered that they felt safe talking to her about issues they were comfortable bringing up with their neighbors, and their stories evolved into the documentary film, Kings Point. (Grandma’s story is not featured but was one of the inspirations for the film.) 

After thirty years in Kings Point, the family decided to move their grandmother to an assisted living facility near them in Westchester, New York. At 92, her arthritis had gotten so bad that she could no longer take care of herself, which caused her great distress. A little more than a year later, she became impatient waiting for assistance, fell and broke a hip, leading to rapid decline and death. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has included Kings Point among finalists for the Oscar category of Documentary Short Subject. Official nominations are announced in January 10, 2012. 


Research sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts has shown the benefits of local creativity programs for seniors. These include reduced health costs. City College of San Francisco’s Older Adults Department offers free lifelong learning classes designed for people age 55+ at more than 30 locations throughout San Francisco. 

The lifelong learning courses that have been free could become fee-based as CCSF’s struggle to retain accreditation continues. But many elders would not be able to afford to pay for classes and courses. 

Lifelong learning was a key part of California’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, intended to give Californians opportunity to upgrade their knowledge to qualify for jobs, learn new skills for personal enrichment, and return for a degree in a new field of study. The classes include English as a second language (ESL), citizenship, and older-adults courses.

San Francisco's Measure A will raise about $14 million annually for eight years for the College. Proposition 30, the statewide tax measure, will prevent automatic spending cuts to higher education, public schools and other state programs. But lifelong learning and other noncredit classes may still be on the chopping block. 

According to its current “Schedule” the Berkeley Adult School’s Life Long Learning Program for adults age fifty and older offers classes at locations throughout Berkeley, including North and South Berkeley Senior Centers. The registration fee is $35.00 per class per student for each course. Courses in this program seek to develop skills and interests that enhance and enrich the quality of life of each participant and the community. 




ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Right to Exist

By Jack Bragen
Friday November 16, 2012 - 10:47:00 AM

Because of how society treats persons with mental illness, and also because of the strong "work ethic" that people have, (in which people who can't keep up are made a scapegoat) persons with mental illness, (at least those who can't work at a job as a result of their condition) are made to feel that our existence isn't justified. 

"Right to exist," among other things, is a strong Jewish tradition that also applies to other downtrodden classifications of people and to all individuals. It means that if no one takes my side in a disagreement, at least I am on my side. It means that I will not go docilely to my destruction. It means that I belong here, I have a right to be here, and I don't have to substantiate that right. 

Right to exist, applied to those with mental illness, means that, usually but not always through socially acceptable and legally acceptable channels, we will protest our mistreatment. It means that we have had laws passed which give us a legal right to refuse lobotomies and electroshock. It means that the systematic oppression and mistreatment of those with mental illness will not be condoned. 

Right to exist means that being disabled does not indicate that we are less than valid people. We ought to value ourselves without buying in to the guilt trip that says we need to be employed to be acceptable people. 

Asking a person who is disabled with severe mental illness to shrug off their problems and get a job is sometimes equivalent to telling someone in a wheelchair that they need to just get up and walk. The problem of people's lack of understanding stems partly from the fact that some of the time, we can actually just shrug off our problems and work. But sometimes we can not. Persons with mental illness should be allowed to work when able and should not be subject to discrimination. Yet, we can't be expected to always be able to work. 

The human mind and brain are very complex, and so are the illnesses that affect them. A simplistic approach to a person with a mental illness, like "just try harder and do it," does not always work. Some of the time, it will work. This is a source of confusion for people with simple minds who have trouble understanding the complex nature of our illnesses and our disabilities. 

For a non-disabled person, being able to work at a job at random is not an indication of fitness. There are plenty of people who lack intellectual development who do not have difficulty with employment. Being unable to hold employment is often a signal of more going on in someone's cranium, not less. 

Most nondisabled people are ignorant. Nondisabled persons are unaware and uninformed about the difficulties that we experience, and they believe we just ought to overcome our laziness because that's what worked for them. However, despite the fact that a psychiatric disability is invisible, it is real. 

We did not produce our disability-it has been given to us. 

If the consensus is that we are awful people, it opens the door for all sorts of hatred and abuse. Persons with mental illness are entitled to at least a modicum of self-righteousness. Yet, the world should not require that we put on a grand display of self righteous anger for them to realize we have personhood and that we do not deserve to be the target of their bad treatment. 

We are not bad people just because people believe we are. 

Furthermore, we are entitled. We are entitled to the social security and medical benefits that we receive because we have a legitimate disability that gives us that right. We should not be made to feel guilt because we aren't "earning our way." Any society that champions fairness and human rights owes us the free money and medical care that we get. 

Our society (which is people) has already put up barriers of discrimination that often prevent us from getting hired or from coexisting with employers and coworkers (discrimination doesn't stop once a person is hired). And many companies have tried to evade the obligation of creating reasonable accommodation. 

If people are going to force us to wear that label, "mentally ill person," then people have to pay us. 

I am selling a new self help guide for people with schizophrenia. The title is: "Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia: A Self-Help Manual." At sixty-one pages, it is a useful guide for those with this illness who need some hope, instruction, and encouragement to be treatment compliant. Here is the link to this manual on LULU, which is a self publishing website. 

And here is the link to the Kindle version on Amazon, to get the book faster and cheaper: 

Arts & Events

Updated: Mozart Opera at Berkeley Piano Club This Friday

By Ken Bullock
Friday November 16, 2012 - 10:22:00 AM

Cosi fan tutti, the charming Mozart/Da Ponte opera, will be presented for one night only, Friday November 30, by Dazzling Diva Productions, Jonathan Khuner (of Berkeley West Edge Opera) conducting, and Eliza O'Malley producing, directing—and singing the role of Flordiligi—at the Berkeley Piano Club.

The cast also includes Sarita Cannon, Eric Coyne, Nikola Printz and Jonathan Smucker.

Berkeley Piano Club is a choice but small venue—advance tickets are strongly advised: $15-$20 at brownpapertickets.com/event/287184

Dazzling Divas info: 510-517-1820

Berkeley Piano Club, 2724 Haste (one-way westbound, between Piedmont and College.)

New: AROUND & ABOUT THEATER & OPERA: Inferno Theatre's 'Dracula' Opens; Arthur Miller's 'All My Sons' at Douglas Morrison Theatre; Mozart/Da Ponte 'Cosi fan tutte' Friday December 1 only at Berkeley Piano Club; Festival Opera's Unusual Pastiche 'About Face,' I

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday November 28, 2012 - 02:47:00 PM

—Giulio Cesare Perrone—formerly of the Grotowski Institute in Italy and the Dell'Arte School in Humboldt County—has produced some of the more interesting work locally on stage in the past few years with his Inferno Theatre Company: 'Galileo's Daughters' and 'The Iliad,' two completely different kinds of play, at the Berkeley City Club, as well as set designs for many companies up and down the West Coast. 

Now Inferno will be opening 'Dracula' on Thursday for two weeks, an original adaptation into physical theater, choreography with live music and pervasive design, where "the power of suggestion and possession, hypnotism and somnambulism" are everyday things—written, directed and designed by Perrone, with Simone Bloch, Paul Davis, Julia Ellis, Valentina Emeri, AeJay Mitchell, Ilya Parizhsky, Christine Shonkwiler and Sheena van Spronsen, with music by Norman Kern, lighting by Michael Palumbo. 

Staged at the historic Arts-&-Crafts design South Berkeley Community Church, 1802 Fairview (a block west of Adeline, near Ashby BART), where Inferno is in residence. Thursdays (November 29, December 6) at 8, Fridays (November 30, December 7) at 9, Saturdays (December 1 and 8) at 8, and Sunday December 9 at 8. $12-$25 sliding scale. 788-6415; infernotheatrecompany@gmail.com; inferotheatre.org 


—Also opening Friday is Arthur Miller's 'All My Sons,' directed by Susan evans, at the Douglas Morrison Theatre, by the Japanese Gardens in De Anza Park, Hayward. Friday through Saturday at 8 (Saturday matinee December 1 at 2) and Sundays at 2 through December 9. $10-$28 (discounts for seniors, students, Theatre Bay Area & KQED members & groups). 22311 N. Third, Hayward. 881-6777; dmtonline.org 


—In opera, Mozart and Da Ponte's great and wise comedy, 'Cosi fan tutte,' will be staged one night only, Friday the First, 7:30 at the Berkeley Piano Club, directed by Eliza O'Malley, conducted by Jonathan Khuner (of Berkeley West Edge Opera), with music by David Cheng's String Quartet, Richard Stevens on piano and Peter Josheff, clainet. Cast: Sarita Cannon, Eric Coyne, Paul Murray, Eliza O.Malley, Nikola Prinz, Jonathan Smucker. Chorus: Emma Boss, Barbara Hauser, David Oorbeck. 3724 Haste (between College and Piedmont). $20/$25 at door, $15/$25 advance (it's a cozy venue!). 517-1820; brownpapertickets.com/event/27184 

(The Dazzling Divas—O'Malley, Pamela Connelly and Kathleen Moss—who are producing 'Cosi,' will perform next Wednesday at Le Bateau Ivre, with Jonathan Khuner on piano. 7-9 p. m. 2629 Telegraph. 849-1100) 


—And an unusual operatic pastiche coming up, three performances only: Festival Opera, the bay Area's third largest company, will perform both at their Walnut Creek home and for the first time in Oakland, staging 'About Face,' concerning opera and affliction, inspired by soprano Heidi Moss' experience with Bell's Palsy in 2007—the first act featuring such opera icons as Rigoletto and Violetta of 'La Traviata,' plus Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man (with original music from a forthcoming chamber opera about Merrick by Kurt Erickson, the second act a performance of Henry Mollicone's 'The Face on the Barroom Floor,' honkytonk piano and conducting by the composer, with Heidi Moss, Eugene Brancoveanu (baritone) and Jorge Garza (tenor). December 5, 4 & 8 p. m at the Lesher Center, 1601 Civic Center Drive, Walnut Creek, $25-$45 (925) 943-SHOW, Brown Paper Tickets or the Lesher Center Box Office. December 7 at 7, Oakland Technical High School Performing Arts Center, 4341 Broadway (at 42nd), Oakland, $25, Brown Paper Tickets, (800) 838-3006 or at performance. All shows will be followed by Q & A and a chance to meet the artists. 


“YOU NEED TO READ POETRY!” Drama in SF in December

By John McMullen
Sunday November 25, 2012 - 09:52:00 AM
Valerie Fachman, Shaye Angelo Acevedo, Gloria McDonald, Melvign Badiola,
              Geo Epsilanty, Carina Lastimosa Salazar, Azelah Jamison, Gino Rose
Valerie Fachman, Shaye Angelo Acevedo, Gloria McDonald, Melvign Badiola, Geo Epsilanty, Carina Lastimosa Salazar, Azelah Jamison, Gino Rose

PERFORMERS UNDER STRESS presents a raucous cavalcade of American Poetry that answers the question: Why Poetry? Nov 30 through Dec 23 at Bindlestiff Studio, 185 Sixth Street, San Francisco. 

Their aim is for their audience to experience the worlds of these poems in a theatrical context: intense, funny and real.  

Forty poets are featured including Langston Hughes, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Anne Sexton, Nikki Giovanni, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Bukowski, Gregory Corso, Thom Gunn, Gil Scott-Heron, e.e. cummings, Anne Waldman, Billy Collins, Gary Soto, David Meltzer, and many others.ll 

Performers Under Stress pushes poetry’s vocabulary into a synesthetic experience of movement, image, and sound. 

syn·es·the·sia 1. A condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color.2. A sensation felt in one part of the body as a result of stimulus applied to another, as in referred pain. 3. The description of one kind of sense impression by using words that normally describe another. 

Performers Under Stress developed this highly visual, occasionally interactive piece through a unique physical theatre workshop-into-rehearsal process, forging an evening of joyous, high-energy, intensely kinetic performance. 

Founded over 20 years ago by Scott Baker and Charles Pike, Performers Under Stress is a recipient of the Joseph Jefferson Citation for their theater work in Chicago. Along with Valerie Fachman, Geo Epsilanty, Sylvia Kratins, and a growing ensemble of artistic associates, PUS continues to be highly praised for its bare-bones productions of Samuel Beckett plays and original works. Previous productions include critically lauded plays: How To Love, Cancer Cells, Failure 2 Communicate, An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This, His Final Evening, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Sam I Am and Son of Sam I Am, Ghost Train Coming, tempestuous(ness), or HIStory Is Told by the Victor, and The Farmington Armada

Tickets for all performances are available at http://youneedtoreadpoetry.eventbrite.com

More information available at http://performersunderstress.com . 

You Need to Know....

Wednesday November 21, 2012 - 01:05:00 PM

The Big Picture Opens at the Elmwood, November 16

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Friday November 16, 2012 - 11:51:00 AM

The Big Picture is an engrossing film. Actually, thanks to director Eric Lartigau, it is two magnificent films in one smooth 115-minute package. The original title of this French masterwork (first released in 2011 but only now reaching the US) was L'homme qui voulait vivre sa vie ("The Man Who Wished to Live His Life"). It was, in turn, based on The Big Picture, a 1998 novel by American author Douglas Kennedy. 


The first half of the story takes place in Paris, where our hero Paul Exben (Romain Duris) has buried his free-spirited dreams of becoming a world-class photographer to work as a partner in a top-flight legal firm. He is a doting father with a young son and newborn baby. But, in addition to his regrets over a lost chance at an artistic career, Paul has another cause for anxiety: his marriage has suddenly started to tumble out of control. Sarah (Marina Foïs) is tense. Everything he says annoys or offends her. Paul begins to suspect Sarah is seeing a neighbor named Grégoire Kremer, a tall, ruggedly handsome chap who, to Paul's profound annoyance, presents himself as a working photographer, trying (without success) to score an assignment with National Geographic

Paralyzed by increasing suspicion, confusion and misery, Paul stumbles through appointments and dinner parties, acting badly and making a worse muck of things. 

This, then, is the first film—a tragedy of manners. 

But halfway through this well-crafted tale of love and loss, tragedy turns to violence and Paul's life is upended. 

Leaving Paris far behind, Paul is forced to abandon his career, his wife and his children. Standing on a bluff overlooking the sea, Paul watches the sun sink into the ocean. Never has a sunset radiated such a sense of loss—of children who will grow old but never be seen again; of lives, loves, homes, friends and memories slipping away forever. 

Over ocean waters, through mountain tunnels, dusted by snowstorms, Paul Exben is a man in desperate flight, torn from everyone he once loved. But as Exben exits the confines of the French capital, a marvelous cinematic transformation follows. The dreary background of urban life gives way to a world of awesome natural vistas aglow with color and light. Exben, traveling incognito, blazes a path east to the Balkans, heading toward a rendezvous with a certain place in time. 

In the rugged wilds of Yugoslavia, Exben revisits a lake he remembers from his youth—the backdrop for an amazing photograph he once captured when he was foot-loose, single and free to "just live his life." 

Everywhere the camera turns, the screen becomes an Adriatic postcard. Freed from his past, Paul takes the plunge. The first plunge is a symbolic leap into the lake; the next plunge takes him to a local camera store, where he acquires a 35-mm single lens reflex camera, a case of lenses and all the equipment needed to set up his own darkroom in an isolated home atop the nexus of a windswept valley. 

This "second movie" becomes a tense—and intriguingly contradictory—combination of self-discovery and hide-and-seek. Paul blossoms as an artist, falls in with some colorful local characters, and begins to fall in love with a kind, local woman. 

But when his photos are chosen for a prestigious international exhibition, Paul discovers how celebrity can turn into a horror-house of psychological terror for a man on the run. Exben discovers the peculiar agony of his unusual fate: "You can't make a name for yourself when you're running from your own identity." 

The Big Picture ends with a third mini-movie as Exben exits Yugoslavia, once more caught between a past he needs to outrun and a future he can't imagine. Armed only with one last possession, his camera, he witnesses the unwatchable. Breaking the photojournalist's cardinal rule, he cries out against the crimes he's photographed and his life is suddenly on the line. 

French actor Romain Duris owns this picture. Although some US viewers may be put off by his mid-movie resemblance to red-meat comic Dennis Miller, it is hard to take your eyes off Duris' eyes and his increasingly harried and tormented face. 

It comes as a blessing that the last we see of Paul Exben there is a hint of transcendence. He has been stripped of all worldly goods, recognition and identity but, as he turns away from the screen to face an unknowable future, something strange registers on his face. A smile.